volleyball practice

The last time the Roadrunners’ volleyball team walked off the court was following a defeat at the hands of the #5 Texas Longhorns in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

They were able to be in that game thanks to the clinching of their first Southland Conference Title since 2000. As they enter their final season of competition in the Southland before making the move to the WAC, they enter with a target on their back.

“I don’t think it adds any pressure,” Head Coach Laura Groff said when asked about the potential added pressure of being champions. “The pressure is off when you win it. I think we got that monkey off our back; we proved we could do it.”

Before the Roadrunners begin the defense of their Southland title, they will face a tough non-conference slate beginning with a trip to the Texas A&M Invitational in College Station where they will take on a Creighton squad that made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament as well as the host Aggies.

“We have a lot of Big XII schools and Missouri Valley schools,” Groff said. “Those are all teams from our region.”

The Roadrunners will have no shortage of regional teams as they will follow up the A&M Invitational with a trip to Houston for the Rice Invitational. There they will meet Houston Baptist, Georgia Tech and Rice.

In between tournaments, the Roadrunners will play their only two non-conference home games on Sept 4 against West Virginia and Sept 6 against Prairie View A&M.

Following that will be a trip to Denver, Colorado for the Pioneers Classic where the Roadrunners will get their first look at future conference-foe Denver in addition to Missouri, UC Davis and Drake.

The non-conference schedule will conclude with a trip up I-35 to Austin for the Texas Tournament where the Roadrunners will face SMU and Santa Clara before closing out the non-conference against the Texas Longhorn team that eliminated the Roadrunners from the postseason a year ago.

“It is a tough preseason, like always,” Groff said. “I tried to schedule more regional teams because last year we had a few players who had great statistical seasons, but because we didn’t play regional teams they weren’t eligible for all-region.

The tough non conference should prepare the Roadrunners for one final campaign in the Southland. The Roadrunners conference schedule will begin at rival Texas State on Sept. 22 with the conference home opener on Sept. 29 against Sam Houston State.

“Expectations are high,” Groff said. “They expect to win again, the seniors. They did it as juniors and they want to do it again.”

The defense of the conference crown will be done without four outgoing seniors. Most notably of the departing seniors was outside hitter Kendra Rowland. Despite the loss of Rowland and the other seniors from the championship team, Groff found reason for optimism with an experienced team coming back and a new crop of incoming freshman.

“The older players realize that the biggest thing we lost in Kendra was just how talkative she was on the court,” Groff said. “We have players who can play as well as her, but her energy and leadership is tough to replace.”

Among the players tasked with taking over the leadership role on the team will be the two seniors: defensive specialist Kelsey Jewasko and outside hitter Elise Huskey.

“Elise is one of the reasons we won the conference championship,” Groff said. “She set the stage for her senior year.”

Among the incoming freshmen, Dempsey Thornton shows the most promise after having led her Corpus Christi King squad to a #8 national ranking in the final ESPN Rise Fab 50 poll last season. Thornton will split her time in the middle hitter and outside hitter positions.

“I am expecting a lot out of Dempsey Thornton to come in here and help us out,” Groff said. “All the other positions are up for grabs.”

The Roadrunners home opener will be Sept. 4 against West Virginia. 

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