Lady Demon volleyball back to full strength as fall camp begins

It’s a numbers game for Northwestern State volleyball, who began fall practice on Friday.

The combination of a postponed season, reduced roster and injuries left the Lady Demons with just seven players to finish the 13-game spring schedule. There were double that number going through passing drills inside Prather Coliseum on Friday morning as preparation began for 2021 season.

That fact alone has seventh-year head coach Sean Kiracofe excited about the new season.

“We have a full gym and all of our new players fill roles that we were at times lacking last season,” Kiracofe said. “To be able to put them into those spots is great and helped things just move a whole lot better.”

Another point of excitement for the coach and Lady Demon fans will be the return of libero Haley Hoang who suffered a season-ending injury midway through the spring season. Now a junior, Hoang picked up right where she left off in her first day back on the court.

“I feel back to normal and 100 percent,” Hoang said. “I’m just ready to go in and contribute everything I can and start off the same way I did last year if not better and do everything I can to help my team out.”

Hoang led the conference and ranked in the top 10 in the country in digs per set at the time of her injury. She is one of the leaders in a relatively small group of upperclassmen, along with Bryce Potter and Reagan Lee who both enter their fourth years with the program.

They are tasked with ushering in the next wave of Lady Demons, including four freshman who are likely to see plenty of action early and often.

“We have a great group of girls and I think we’ll get a better chance at gelling since we’ll be able to be together more,” Hoang said about the new faces on the team. “We’ve had a few open gyms and lift sessions, and everybody works really hard and is really dedicated and will give everything they have to make the team better.”

Still a relatively new face to the program is Autumn Gentry, who is in her second year at NSU after transferring from New Mexico State, but quickly established herself as leader thanks to the versatility she displayed a season ago playing multiple positions, at times, within the same match.

“It was a challenge getting to spend time in all the positions in practice,” Gentry said. “But it helped me see the floor in different ways that I hadn’t seen before, understand where other people are coming from in those positions and really helped my game overall.

“Having that knowledge in the different spots and how coach wants them run will help me give that advice to the new girls if they need it. I think it’s going to help all of us be better, motivating each other and pushing ourselves will be exciting.”

The work began in earnest on Friday morning and continues through the next few weeks as a new crop of players find their roles within the program and on the floor. Navigating through that in August with a full schedule ahead gives Kiracofe a sense of familiarity as he enters his 19th season in college coaching.

“To get an actual preseason and be able to train and work on things and get people used to what’s happening feels great, it feels comfortable,” he said. “I go back to how we were shorthanded number wise, a lot of the things we do on a normal basis we just couldn’t do because we didn’t have the bodies.

Now that we do, and we can get into that flow of game-like drills to work on specific things it’s a more comfortable and better feeling going into the season.”

NSU plays a home exhibition match against UL-Lafayette on Aug. 21 and opens the regular season in New Orleans at the Tulane Invite on Aug. 27.

Photo:  Gary Hardamon

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