Volleyball readies for the Crimson Tide Invitational

Abby McCreary, Staff Reporter

Four new head coaches will step into Foster Auditorium Friday afternoon, eager to begin the first day of volleyball season, and their debuts with their programs, with a win.  

The Crimson Tide Invitational, featuring McNeese State University, the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Southern Mississippi will officially kick off the opening weekend of volleyball season with matches beginning Aug. 26 at 12:30 p.m. CT. 

In her first year with the Crimson Tide, head coach Rashinda Reed said she is ready to “leave it all out on the floor.” 

“[We want to] set the standard for Alabama volleyball and what our culture is,” Reed said. “We want to be gritty. We want to play with integrity. We want to be present we want to be where our feet are and leave it all out on the floor.” 

This season, Alabama volleyball hopes to bounce back from a 10-20 record in its 2021 campaign. Reed says she wants a “holistic offense” to  make this happen. 

“I want everyone to be involved so you are putting a lot of pressure on all the blockers,” Reed said. “When you have all the attackers coming at you, it’s really difficult to defend.” 

The Crimson Tide will attempt to put this offense into action this weekend, beginning Friday afternoon against the McNeese State Cowgirls.  

McNeese State, Friday at 12:30 p.m.

Unlike Alabama, McNeese State finished the 2021 season with a historic campaign. The program played in its second Southland Conference Tournament championship match in over 20 years, only to fall 3-1 and earn second place with an 18-11 record.  

However, more than half of the Cowgirls squad has been replaced, including all of its coaches. New head coach Sasha Karelov added seven transfers, two freshmen and a new coaching staff to the McNeese State roster. 

Although Karelov has put together a squad that hasn’t had any playing time together, three of its members have been playing together for years. UTSA transfers and graduate students Mia Perales and Skyeler Embry have been playing together since freshman year, and they managed to bring former UTSA coach Joe Morales with them. 

The trio — led by outside hitter Embry’s 2021 average of 2.24 kills per set — will bring an offense against the Crimson Tide that will be tough to beat. They’re joined by opposite hitters and returning Cowgirls Kendall Glueck and Macee Krpec, who were both in the top-3 in kills and points last season. 

The last matchup between these two programs, in 2017, Alabama pulled off a close 3-2 win, but Alabama middle blockers will need to step up and lead the defense if the Crimson Tide wants to secure their first win of the season. 

University of Texas at San Antonio, Friday at 7 p.m.

Alabama and the University of Texas at San Antonio will face off for the first time in their programs’ histories Friday night. Both teams finished their 2021 seasons with a disappointing .333 winning percentage, and both head coaches hope to start their debut seasons with their programs with a brighter outlook. 

Roadrunners head coach Carol Price-Torok created a very young team during the offseason. Five of the seven additions are freshmen, and there are only two seniors and one graduate student to round out a squad that has little to no college-level experience.  

Junior middle blocker Amanda Ifeanyi, though, is living proof that collegiate experience does not always equal talent. In her sophomore season at UTSA, she had the second-most kills, points and blocks, proving herself an invaluable member of the squad. Ifeanyi will pose a challenge to Crimson Tide middle blocker Alyiah Wells as they both compete for control of the offense Friday night. 

Southern Mississippi, Saturday 3 p.m. 

At last year’s Crimson Tide Invitational, Southern Mississippi lost a 2-0 lead to lose a 2-3 match against Alabama. The comeback win secured the tournament for the Crimson Tide, as well as an 11-10 lead in their series history. In this year’s Crimson Tide Invitational, Southern Miss will take on Alabama Saturday afternoon in hopes of tying the series.  

New head coach Jenny Hazelwood comes into a program that — like Alabama — hasn’t had a winning season since 2018. To turn the tide, Hazelwood has added several transfers and freshmen to a team that hopes to improve its defense. Last year, the Golden Eagles were unblocked 231-174, but the program also hopes to improve its dig statistics with the addition of two libero/defense specialists.  

As for its offense, Southern Miss rallied behind outside hitter Mia Wesley during her breakout freshman season and will likely continue to shape their offense around the now-sophomore. Last season, Wesley led the Golden Eagles with 428 kills, setting a Southern Miss freshman record, and 484 points, nearly double the second-highest scorer. 

The Crimson Tide, whose opponents had both more digs and blocks than them last year, will need to maintain a nearly perfect defense to stick with the Wesley-led Golden Eagles offense.

Questions or comments? Email Austin Hannon (Sports Editor) at [email protected]