Southern Miss Hosts Season-Opening Tournament Friday

Aug. 25, 2016

HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- The 2016 Golden Eagle volleyball season will begin in a familiar way to its most loyal fans, as the ninth-annual Southern Miss Invitational is set for showtime on Friday. The tw days of action will be held inside Oak Grove High School's volleyball facility, and the home squad will have its first serve at 7:30 p.m. against McNeese State.

Southern Miss has won 10 of its last 12 contests in its tournament and has a 23-5 record all-time.

About the Teams
Grambling is picked to finish ninth in the SWAC and led by Demetria Keys-Johnson. The Tigers have just two seniors; a right-side hitter and defensive specialist (Maya Lucas and Alleeyah Hensley, respectively). Lucas is also the team's top returning kill performer.

McNeese State is led by Ashleigh Fitzgerald, who has led the Cowgirls to 15-win seasons in each of her first two on campus. She was previously the head coach for five years at Drury University in Missouri, where it had unprecedented success. Last year's team at one point won five Southland matches in a row that helped it to a 9-7 record. McNeese is picked to finish seventh in the league this year.

The Cowgirls have eight returnees, as well as three seniors. Hailee Showers, a 5-foot-10 outside hitter, is the most experienced of that group with 22 starts in 2015. Malina Sanchez and her team-high 407 kills are gone, but senior Bridget Justis was its leader in digs last year (578).

Southern Miss has a lot to look forward to this year. The team has increased its win total each of the last three seasons to 17, 20 and 24 wins, with many of the big pieces still in Hattiesburg. Stephany Purdue needs 363 kills to break the school career record, and Sarah Bell had an explosive freshman season that launched her into the top 10 for career assists. Sophomore Kylie Grandy even led Conference USA in service aces with 54.

Head coach Amanda Berkley is entering her fourth season leading the Golden Eagles. Her 61-39 record so far makes her the first Southern Miss coach with a winning record since Santiago Restreppo from 2001-03.

Tulane will begin its Jim Barnes era over the weekend. He has 19 years of head coaching experience, most recently serving a decade at Baylor (2004-14). He has also been at Lamar (1996-01) and Wyoming (2002-03). The Green Wave won 28 matches in 2013 but just 10 in 2015. Tulane boasts five seniors, including their top two kill leaders from 2015 (Tea Juric and Sarah Ray).

All three of the top service-ace performers return as well, and they split their 80 as even as they could (27-27-26). The Green Wave also have their best middles from the previous year, as Dayna Kern (121 total blocks) and Sarah Strasner (116) look to begin the Barnes era on the right foot.

Schedule
Friday, Aug. 26
Tulane vs. Grambling - 5 p.m.
Southern Miss vs. McNeese State - 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 27
Tulane vs. McNeese State - 10 a.m.
Southern Miss vs. Grambling - 12:30 p.m.
Grambling vs. McNeese State - 3:30 p.m.
Southern Miss vs. Tulane - 6 p.m.

Tickets
Fans can make single-game and season ticket purchases online at SouthernMissTickets.com, by visiting the Pat Ferlise Center on campus during business hours (8 a.m. - 5 p.m.) or by calling 1-800-844-TICK.

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