Lady Blues tabbed for MIAA Title

Focus Tessa Jones, senior rightside hitter, concentrates on an incoming return at a Lady Blues practice. They are ranked No. 16 in the nation and are picked to win the MIAA conference. The team also hopes to improve upon its 27-9 record from a year ago.

Nathan Miller

The Lady Blues volleyball team is picked to win the conference this year and ranked No. 16 in the nation. But for coach Chris Herron the hype comes as no surprise and has become expected now in his sixth year at the helm.

“I don’t know if expectations have been any different than they have been in the past,” said Herron. “The program my first year was able to win the conference so the bar was set right away pretty high. The expectations after that are to win the conference. If you are going to win the conference, then that should be a natural thing to be ranked in the top 25 because the conference is so incredibly competitive.”

The Lady Blues finished the 2006 season 27-9 and won the MIAA West Division. But after making a run in the post-season conference tournament dropping to Truman State and exiting the NCAA Tournament after the first round with a loss to West Florida, this year’s team is hungry for success.

“It just happens every time we get to the tournament we have a let down and we are better than that,” said Tessa Jones, senior two time All-American rightside hitter. “I think the team is mature enough this year because the team was pretty young last year too. At one point in the tournament last year we had four of the six freshman playing. Now that they have more experience and we have more experience as a team I think we will be ready to go further in the tournament.”

But four freshmen weren’t playing in the tournament by choice – the team was rattled by injuries.

“It was very difficult to get on a roll last year because everybody kept on getting hurt,” said Erica Cowhick, senior defensive specialist.

The Lady Blues started the year with a major loss, losing junior second team All-American outside hitter Monica Miesner after just 18 matches. Then in the first game of the MIAA tournament against Northwest Missouri another outside hitter went down with injury, freshman Ashley Shepard.

“It was definitely really hard for us,” said Jones. “We dealt with it pretty well but we never really had a set line up so it was really hard to get in the flow. If it does happen this year we will be ready for it.”

Although injury held the Lady Blues back, it may have been consistency that caused their season to end prematurely. Herron explains the Lady Blues had a problem with playing to their opponent’s level of competition last year.

“Our schedule is very brutal and we are going to have to be ready,” said Herron. “The team last year had a tendency to play to their competition. We want to make sure people have to play up to our level and not have to go down to theirs.”

But with three seniors, Jones, Cowhick, and Mandi Cox, and would be senior if not for injury, Miesner returning, the Lady Blues are hoping this year will not only be consistent but live up to expectations.

“We were really disappointed with last season,” said Cox. “We never met what we wanted to do. We never met our full potential. We hope this year we bounce back, meet our expectations and play to our full potential.”

For Herron, that is all about living up to their team culture.

“Your team culture simply means how are we perceived,” said Herron. “When people are sitting in the stands, they say that team is fun to watch or that team is boring to watch or that team doesn’t communicate or that team is exciting or whatever the perception of the outside is, that is your culture.

“The kids help create that culture by having a strong voice. Voice means for me, means energy. We are trying to create a real strong team culture here, one that the fans will enjoy watching.”