Sports

XU volleyball shooting for a big year: Staff writer Robert Jamieson previews and predicts the Muskies’ season

By: Robert Jamieson

Last year the Xavier University women’s volleyball team had a remarkable season.

The team finished second in both the Atlantic 10 regular season and conference tournament and had one of its players earn All-American status for the third straight year. The team had five of its players named either first or second team all-conference (the only team in the conference to do so) and earned 20 plus wins for the fourth straight year. The Musketeers are also heading into their inaugural year in the Big East with two unanimous preseason All-Big East players and are expected to be one of the favorites to win the conference.

The Musketeers come into this year with high expectations to make a serious run at a Big East title. Head coach Mike Johnson is continuing to prove he can recruit with the best of them, bringing in another nationally recognized class. Look for 6-foot-2 freshman outside hitter Abbey Bessler to step in and make an impact right away. While the losses of Stephanie Vorherr and hitter Ame White will be big losses, I don’t see any reason why this team can’t embrace the “next girl in” mentality and not miss a step.

The Musketeers will be lead by the pair of unanimous preseason All-Big East seniors Alex Smith and Sarah Brown. Smith has been named to the A-10 first team each of the last two years while Brown was named to the second team last season.

We aren’t denying that Brown and Smith should see a heavy workload this year, but they won’t be carrying the team on their shoulders. Smith will be working alongside her sophomore setter sister Aubree Smith, who was on the A-10 second team and made the all-tournament team last year.

My player to watch this year is redshirt junior Alex Blair. After missing the early part of the season with an injury, Blair came on strong toward the end of the year and was named to the A-10 championship All-Tournament Team, averaging an impressive 9.5 kills and 6.5 blocks in their two matches.

While I will be the first to say I expect big things from the Musketeers this year, a Big East championship won’t come easy. Top Big East teams like Marquette and Creighton could prove a substantial roadblock for the Muskies this year, although they aren’t invincible either. With that being said, here are my three bold predictions for volleyball this season:

1. Head coach Mike Johnson will win Big East Coach of the year. This guy is the real deal. Johnson makes every team he is a part of better including his previous team, Austin Peay State, leading them to their best league mark in 17 years.

2. Xavier will have three first team All-Big East players: Alex Smith, Sarah Brown and Alex Blair.

3. Xavier will not only win the Big East this year, but they will make the NCAA Tournament. This won’t be because they have the best players in the country. Rather, Johnson will have them playing as one of the best teams, something that other teams that play in Cintas Center should take note of.

Key Home Games:

• Aug. 30 vs. Michigan: The Muskies will face an early home test against a team that appeared in the Final Four last year. A win could define the rest of the Musketeers’ season.

• Oct. 4 vs. Seton Hall: Xavier’s inaugural Big East game.

• Oct. 5 vs. Creighton & Nov. 2 vs. Marquette: My predictions more or less depend on these games. So obviously they are a big deal.