HATTIESBURG, Miss. - The Southern Miss volleyball team is excited to begin its 2016 campaign. Admission is free to Saturday's Fan Day and scrimmage, beginning at 1 p.m. in Reed Green Coliseum, and the regular season commences Friday, Aug. 26 at 7:30 p.m. (Oak Grove High School) against McNeese State in the Southern Miss Invitational.
The squad is coming off a 24-11 record, the Golden Eagles' most wins since 2009 and the fourth consecutive year they saw an increase there. It was also the first time the program registered consecutive 20-win seasons since 1989-90.
The 2016 bunch was picked to finish fourth in Conference USA, and head coach Amanda Berkley said that the outside hitters the team returns are both "great all-around players." Stephany Purdue was an All-Conference selection in 2015 while Kylie Grandy earned All-Freshman honors.
"Stephany is the leader," Berkley said. "I would say she will be huge for us. She was a captain last year and she will be the same this year. Both Kylie and Stephany are leaders who can also take us to new levels of ball control, and it's nice to have two players who are great at every skill in the game."
Purdue was also fifth in the league in kills (3.85 per set) and currently sits ninth all-time at Southern Miss (1,204). The preseason All-Conference nod is 362 away from catching Tosha Barnicoat (1996-99) for the record. Grandy's outstanding freshman season also saw her lead C-USA in service aces (27 in league contests), and her 333 kills were the most by a Southern Miss freshman since 1995.
The defensive specialist/libero position will definitely be a change for the Golden Eagles. Gone is two-time C-USA Libero of the Year Mary Pursell, whose 5.42 digs per set led the league in 2015. However, Berkley does have confidence in both junior Natalie Druhan and freshman Catherine Repsher.
"I would expect Natalie to start," she said. "She's a junior, has been playing the defensive specialist role the last few years and will probably be the libero. She's done a great job this past summer and gotten a lot better. Cat has done a nice job too and she could see time in the DS role."
Repsher's opportunity to make an impact also extends beyond the DS spot, as the middle blocker position remains wide open for the talented six-freshmen class.
"I would expect [Repsher] to start in the middle," Berkley said. "On the outsides, Ashley Berry could see playing time early on. She jumps through the roof. Alexis Douglas brings a nice block and so does Molly [Coughlan]. They have some potential, and others have potential playing back row, like Ashley Chapman and Morganne Jones. But are middles have gotten a lot better for sure."
Sarah Bell will look to build on what was an outstanding freshman season at the setter position. Her 1,364 assists have already put her No. 10 on the Southern Miss career record book. She finished third in C-USA for returners in that category.
Fans are encouraged to follow @SouthernMissVB on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Single-game and season tickets are also available at SouthernMissTickets.com.
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