By Stacey Kilpatrick
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville University volleyball team is hosting its first Atlantic Sun matches of the season this weekend against Lipscomb and Northern Kentucky, and senior middle blocker Kylie Jacob knows the two schools will provide stiff competition.
"They’re always such a solid team,” Jacob said of Lipscomb (7-4, 1-0 A-Sun), which stands third in the conference. Northern Kentucky is currently eighth (5-8, 0-1).
“It’s a huge game playing Lipscomb and especially Northern Kentucky, they’re both very, very good teams, and it would be amazing to get those wins down, so any supporters we can get, we would love to have them.”
JU is ranked eighth nationally in aces
per set (1.87) totaling 84 aces in 45 sets.
Lipscomb is ranked No. 1 in kills per set (15.71) with 550 kills in 35 sets. It’s also third in assists per set (14.34) with 502 in 35 sets.
Individually, Lipscomb senior Caitlin Dotson is second in assists per set with 12.69. She’s totaled 444 assists in 35 sets. Junior Jewell Dobson is ranked seventh nationally in kills per set (4.86) with 170 total in 35 sets. Dobson is also eighth in points per set (5.33) in 35 sets.
Northern Kentucky’s Keely Creamer leads her team with 41.0 total blocks, including 39 block assists and two block solos, which will give Jacob a challenge.
It’s been quite a turnaround for the Dolphins
(10-2, 1-1), who started this season 9-0 – the best since the 1978 season and
in Jacob’s four years – compared to last season’s 0-8 losing slide, including
six shutouts and two 3-2 losses.
The closest streak was during her freshman season in 2010 when JU won five straight, but in both her sophomore (2011) and junior (2012) seasons, the Dolphins won three in a row.
But this season the program has evolved.
"Honestly since I’ve been here, that [9-0] was the first time we’ve ever had a record like that and I just thought it was an amazing feeling because right away [in the] preseason we knew that we had a special team and that we were connecting really well, and just the fact that when we were playing other people we were proving that we were a great team, and so it just started off this season really well.”
JU was one of 12 programs in the country that stood undefeated through Sept. 15, including the team currently ranked No. 2 in the country, Washington.
“I feel like we’re finally getting recognition, which is really exciting for the program,” said Jacob.
The Dolphins dropped their first match of the season on Sept. 18 at UCF, 3-1, in their final non-conference match before A-Sun competition.
“I think preseason is fixing the little things, like what we were doing in practice, but now since it’s conference we have to have those things fixed and definitely focus on what we need to focus on. So preseason is more … working out the kinks and working together, and then now is when you have to put everything together that we’ve learned and play as hard as we can.”
JU did put together the lessons that
they’ve learned so far, earning their 10th win two days after UCF in
a 3-0 trumping at conference foe Florida Gulf Coast.
“Last season was definitely a rebuilding year because we had a lot of new people and I think that this year is a big stepping point and it ... proves that we ... have what it takes finally this year to go further.”
Most recently, the Dolphins lost a five-set heartbreaker at Stetson on Sept. 21, where they rallied from a 2-0 deficit to 2-2 before falling by three points, 15-12.
LEARNING FROM MICHELLE
Head coach Michelle Collier is in her second year at JU. In addition to this year’s success thus far, Collier brought last year’s team to a 10-24, 7-11 record and a No. 5 seed in the A-Sun Championship.
“I think Michelle brought in a lot of really good people.” Jacob said. “We struggled with passing last year because we didn’t have a solid passer, and Michelle I think definitely focused on bringing in a solid passer, so now we have a libero this year. Just with us having a second season with Michelle and knowing how she coaches and her dynamic of practice and everything, I think it’s finally coming together with her experience and ours mixing.”
FRESHMAN TO SENIOR
Jacob is second in the conference and leads JU in blocks with 50.0, tallying 45 block assists and five block solos in 45 sets, with 1.11 blocks per set. She’s also second in kills for the Dolphins with 108 (2.40 k/set) behind sophomore Sammie Strausbaugh’s team-leading 141 (3.44 k/set).
“It’s definitely exciting that, especially with Sammie, we’re both up there in the kills and the blocks. I just think that both of those are so important, especially blocking,” Jacob explained. “Michelle stresses a lot about that. So I think that those are two very important parts of the game, so the fact that we are starting out early with that ... hopefully we can keep building on throughout the season.”
From her freshman to senior seaons, Jacob said that she’s grown in confidence. In her game, she went from playing 19 to 31 to 34 matches, improving from 54 to 92 to 117 total blocks, respectively, including 19 solo blocks her junior season. In kills, she advanced from 80 freshman season to 243 sophomore season and held a steady 219 as a junior. In 12 matches thus far, she has recorded 50.0 total blocks and 108 kills.
“I definitely think confidence is a big deal. I mean as a freshman you don’t have as much confidence [to] … [lead] the team and [make] sure we have … team chemistry that we need to succeed. Being a senior, being able to lead not only people in my position, but my team as well … I think all the seniors do a really good job of that.”
Looking forward to the remainder of
her final year at JU, Jacob hopes to get the big W and go all the way.
“Last year was the first year that I made it to [the A-Sun Championship], which I thought was a huge deal, and this year I want to go even further. Last year when we did go to conference we all felt like other people thought we didn’t deserve to be there, and I want to go in there proving everyone that we do deserve to be there this year.
“I think winning it would be awesome,” Jacob continued, “I’m sure all the seniors would say the same, but I just think the fact that from my freshman year to this year is a huge dramatic difference from the team that we had then and how much we’ve succeeded just from those four years.”
Regardless of this season’s outcome, Jacob said that her best experience in her four-year career thus far has been JU’s undefeated run, verifying to other schools that the Dolphins have what it takes to compete.
“A lot of people doubted us. We were voted to finish fifth this year in the season and I think that a lot of people have [doubted] us, but I think this year we have what it takes to go further, especially possibly go to the championship.”