The Middle Tennessee State University volleyball team has already faced some tough non-conference competition so far this season.
Former Riverdale star Chelsea Ross (10) looks to lead the Blue Raiders this season. Ross, a freshman at MTSU, was named the Sunbelt Player of the Week on Monday, Sept. 3. (MT Athletics)
In the meantime, this year’s team is in the beginning stages of bringing together a group of four upperclassmen with a talented group of younger players.
Even with the mix of experience on the court, the players and coaches believe the team has already developed a positive rapport with each other on the court.
“We feel like we have a lot of chemistry, because we have been together since June and July doing open gym,” Blue Raider senior libero Halie Vannoy said. “That has really brought us together.”
Her fellow teammate and incoming freshman, former Riverdale star Chelsea Ross said she has already learned a lot from her older teammates about making the adjustment from the high school level to the college game.
“The older players really help us a lot,” Ross said. “They tell us what we need to improve on, and where we need to be on the court.”
Most of the scoring punch so far this season has come from the dynamic duo of Ross and senior Ashley Adams.
Adams’ collegiate career speaks for itself, and before this season she was named to the Preseason All-SBC team. In the last match against VCU, Adams led the team in kills with 20.
As for Ross, she was just named the Sunbelt Conference Player of the Week, for her performance last week during the matches in Virginia. She had a career-high 23 kills in the win against Towson on Sept. 1.
“I was excited that they picked me,” Ross said. She also added she found out about winning the award when a friend texted her “Congratulations” last Monday.
Long-time Blue Raider head coach Matt Peck had nothing but praise for the newcomer.
“She continues to impress us everyday in practice,” Peck said. “She is very coachable kid, and does what we ask her to do. She is a great role model for the other players on the team.”
Both Ross and Adams are ranked in top six in the conference in kills per set, according to the stats as of Sept. 6. Ross is second in the SBC with 3.94 kills per set, while Adams is sixth with 3.50 kills per set. The two have led the Blue Raiders in kills in all but one match so far this season.
Of course, Ross spent her high school career in Murfreesboro, and the experience has helped her adjust to the college level.
“It helped me become more of a leader on the court,” Ross said.
The players and coaches believes this trio of matches over the weekend is another step in getting the team ready for conference play later this month.
But the Blue Raiders will need them this weekend when MTSU played in the Carolina Volleyball Classic on the campus of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill against three teams, Western Michigan, Louisiana State University and North Carolina, which are always in contention for the postseason every year.
The three matches took place on Friday and Saturday, but results were unavailable before this issue went to press.
Two of the non-conference teams – LSU and North Carolina – the Blue Raiders have never faced before in the school’s history. While, the Western Michigan match will be the first one between the teams since 2000, which WMU won three sets to none.
“Our goal for this weekend is to finish the match,” Ross said.
Coming into the weekend, the Blue Raiders sported a 3-5 record, but it has only been swept in three games once this young season.
That came in the first match of the season to Furman on Aug. 24.
Since then, the players and coaches agree, they have been competitive, but they also know they need to work on playing each match to the end.
“We need to improve and finish the game,” Vannoy said. “We are really going to strive to play well during the third, fourth or fifth set, depending on how far the match goes.”
Last weekend, MTSU headed to the Commonwealth state, playing three matches in the Hokie Invitational, against Harvard, Towson and host Virginia Tech. The Blue Raiders also had a Labor Day meeting at VCU.
The Blue Raiders won its first two matches during the holiday weekend, 3-2 (26-24, 25-20, 20-25, 20-25, 15-8) over Harvard on Aug. 31, and 3-1 (25-20, 26-24, 20-25, 25-16) over Towson the following day.
However, the Blue Raiders dropped the final two matches of the week, 3-1 (25-18, 17-25, 17-25, 18-25) on Sept. 1 against the Hokies, and 3-2 (25-18, 21-25, 25-21, 21-25, 10-15) at VCU on Labor Day.
The Blue Raiders return home on Tuesday for a match against in-state rival Austin Peay at 7 p.m. inside the Alumni Memorial Gym.