Volleyball making most of historic road stretch
HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Do not let the many bus and plane miles of late fool you; Southern Miss Volleyball is doing just fine and ready for its next opportunity.
On paper at the start of the year, it seems unfathomable to have 21 days away from home in between conference matches (Southern Miss' last Hattiesburg contest in was Sept. 24 versus UTSA). But just how rare is that feat?
Well, it is the longest-such stretch in Southern Miss' C-USA history. The 1997, 1999 and 2006 squads both had 20-day absences from their home crowds.
"I think the team has responded fine," head coach Amanda Berkley said. "The travel has been spread just enough to where it's not too challenging. Of course, with unforeseen circumstances, we didn't get a home game between this next one, but it's good, because you have to play most of your games on the road, especially in the postseason. Why not get comfortable being away?"
That unforeseen circumstance was the postponement of a Sunday, Oct. 8 home match against UTEP due to weather. It certainly does not happen much with indoor sports, but Hurricane Nate's fluctuating routes were enough of a concern regarding safety and travel to bump the match with the Miners back to Monday, Oct. 16 at 1 p.m. inside Reed Green Coliseum.
"When you're in front of your home crowd, you're comfortable with your family and friends cheering you on, but when you travel it's just us," junior Dani Ajayi said. "We're all vocal and talk a lot, so it helps knowing you have people cheering you and your coaches on. I think we've adapted pretty well, as far as bus rides they are long, but great for bonding. We watched Halloween movies like 'Hocus Pocus.'"
Freshman Lainey Aenchbacher, a setter out of Savannah, Ga., discussed the new perspective she has had since joining the college ranks.
"It's crazy," she said. "I never imagined being on a plane and traveling with a team. For me, from a small town, we always traveled two, maybe three hours at the most, but being on a plane now is just crazy. I love all the girls and being able to sit and talk the whole time."
Aenchbacher will one day experience what Ajayi has prepared for since first coming to campus.
"Now that we all know the ropes as upperclassmen, we all call dibs on what beds we get," Ajayi said. "It's fun because as a freshman you just get used to traveling, like grabbing snack bags and the routine. The older you get, the more of a habit you get. You know to do your homework and have everything, like not forgetting your jersey. It really just forces you to grow up, be more mature, and it's a lot of fun because you grow a lot as a player and a person off the court."
The squad also spent its final non-conference weekend with a flight to Madison, Wisc., for big-stage battles with Marquette and top-five Wisconsin. As for this current stretch, there is one particular moment that stands out in Berkley's mind as paramount to the team's moving forward.
"I would say when we were at Marshall, when we all had our meal together in the hotel lobby," Berkley said. "Then the team all walked around downtown Huntington and that was kind of a nice, positive thing. They really banded together as a team. There have been some moments on the road where the team has really come together and bonded."
There is also the million-dollar question on who the most memorable person has been on the many road trips this season and during the current stretch.
"Ashley Berry. She's the most entertaining," Ajayi said, with Aenchbacher in agreement. "She's a wild card and you never know what you will get out of her. She's just good energy to have around."
The four-match road swing, which so far has included wins over Marshall and Jackson State, concludes Friday at 7 p.m. at Louisiana Tech. Southern Miss is 12-8 on the year with a 2-2 mark in league play.