The College of Charleston volleyball team watched Tuesday night as the team’s final Southern Conference championship banner was lowered from the rafters of TD Arena before a well-attended non-conference game against Charleston Southern.
The Cougars won either the regular-season or tournament titles in each of their last 12 seasons in the SoCon, and are coming off an NCAA Tournament win last season.
But with the team already picked to win the Colonial Athletic Association on their first try behind preseason CAA MVP Darcy Dorton, the question becomes: just how good is this year’s group of Cougars?
“I think this team could be really good,” head coach Jason Kepner said Tuesday night. “We’ve talked about being a Top 25 team. That started with us going to Georgia Tech and playing in a hostile environment. We took that first step, and now it comes down to getting better along the way.”
Charleston swept Georgia Tech on the Jackets home floor last weekend, and had won seven straight sets entering the contest against the CSU Buccaneers. The big win left the Cougars with a big hangover, however, and the team was sloppy in the first set before pulling things together to post a 25-22, 25-18, 25-12 win over the Bucs to continue their perfect start to the season, at 4-0.
CSU took advantage of the Cougars’ early miscues to take a 7-6 lead. The Cougars’ were able to run out five straight points behind the serving of Melissa Morello to push the lead to 11-7, before South Carolina transfer Cara Howley used a kill and a service ace to extend the lead to 15-10. The early sloppiness crept back into the Cougars’ game — Charleston had four service errors after getting to 15 points — before a Sloane White kill on the College’s third set point finally put the Bucs away.
The Bucs showed some resistance early in the second game, but after the Cougars went on a 9-2 run to climb to 10-4, Charleston’s power left the Bucs helpless to respond. CSU cut the lead to 22-18, but it never felt like they were going to make the comeback.
When the Cougars ran out to a 7-1 lead in the third, Kepner emptied his bench and a new rotation of freshmen and sophomores led Charleston to its most productive set of the match, with 14 kills against only three errors.
“I think we started a little slow. We were a little sloppy,” Kepner said. “We weren’t as sharp and crisp as I would have liked to have been, but we still did enough (to win) the first game. Then I thought we cleaned it up over games two and three.”
Dorton led the attack with 10 kills, while White, the tournament MPV from Georgia Tech, and Morello had seven kills each. Fifteen Cougars saw playing time against the Bucs as the team increased each kill percentage in every set.
“Overall, it was pretty good, but we still have some things we need to work on for this weekend,” Kepner said.
The Cougars host Coastal Carolina (Friday, 7 p.m.), S.C. State (Saturday, 1 p.m.) and Indiana (Saturday, 7 p.m.) this weekend before heading to Long Beach, Calif., the following weekend to face Long Beach State, Loyola Marymount and Seattle. After that, the team should know how good his team can be. But Kepner is already confident.
“I think it’s going to be one of the best teams we’ve had here.”