Pass, set, kill. The Ole Miss volleyball team kicks off their 2019 season this weekend with the Rebel Invitational tournament at the Gillom Center. The Rebels welcome three top-60 teams to Oxford in Rice, Central Florida and Iowa State.
“For this first tournament we just have to get all the jitters out,” said senior outside hitter Emily Stroup. “We have a lot of new players playing this season so hopefully they can be consistent like they have been in practice and the preseason.”
The first game of the weekend for Ole Miss is against Rice at 6 p.m. on Friday. Last year, the Rebels lost against the Owls on the road in Houston, losing three sets to one to the perennial 20-win team. Coming off of another run to the NCAA Tournament, Rice will be looking to kick off their own season with a quality win on the road.
“We were really competitive with Rice last year and they went on to make the NCAA Tournament. We weren’t really competitive against Iowa State at their tournament… so hopefully we can give both of them a better match,” head coach Steven McRoberts said.
On Saturday, the Rebels will take on Iowa State in an attempt to avenge their 3-0 loss to the Cyclones last season. Iowa State began the 2018 season with a promising start, but plunged to No. 60 in the RPI rankings and failed to make the NCAA Tournament.
The Cyclones did manage to earn the No. 1 seed in the National Invitational Volleyball Championship and went on to win the tournament. Saturday’s matchup pits the two most recent NIVC champions, with Ole Miss having won the tournament back in 2017 when it was revived for the first time in over 20 years.
The final game of the weekend for Ole Miss is on Sunday against Central Florida, the strongest of the Rebels’ opponents this weekend. UCF is coming off an impressive 27-win season in which they finished No. 10 in RPI.
They were stunned in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by unranked Florida Gulf Coast.
The Knights are the only team that Ole Miss did not face last year, but new assistant coach Russ Friedland has insight into the UCF program from his days as an assistant coach at East Carolina.
“UCF, I’m familiar with. I coached in that conference for a couple years. It’s exciting to get some good competition in here right away and see what we can do,” Friedland said.
This tournament is the most significant home invitational in program history, with three talented teams coming in. A tournament of this magnitude is important for the development of the program and also gives Ole Miss volleyball fans a chance to see high-level volleyball right
here in Oxford.
“For the fans, there’ll be five really good volleyball matches here,” said McRoberts. “It’s
gotta be a top five tournament in the nation going on the first weekend with the talent that’ll be
here in the gym.”