This past weekend, Head Coach Kristi Gray and company opened the Cajuns’ volleyball season with a trip to Lansing, Michigan for the Auto Owners Insurance Spartan Invitational, featuring some tough local Michigan matchups, including Michigan State, the Big Ten school that the tournament carries the name of.
The Cajuns finished the tournament with a 2–1 record, good for second-best of the tournament and tied for fourth in the Sun Belt Conference.
First up was Eastern Michigan, which started out with some tough breaks in the first two sets, but ended in an electrifying reverse sweep, 21–25, 17–25, 25–18, 25–17 and 15–13, the first of Coach Gray’s tenure.
The next match was against Michigan State, in which the Cajuns fell victim to a reverse sweep, 25–23, 25–23, 23–25, 22–25 and 11–15, just the second of Coach Kristi’s tenure, the last such game coming last season against the University of Texas at Arlington during Senior Weekend in December.
The last game of the series featured a convincing sweep of Fairfield College in 25–18, 25–18 and 25–10, the most lopsided win of Coach Gray’s tenure since last season’s 25–8, 25–11 and 25–11 sweep of Mississippi Valley in the Southern Miss Classic.
Central to the team’s efforts was sophomore hitter and All-Sun Belt award winner Coco Gillett, who led the team in sets played, kills, digs and aces. Gillett averaged 2.46 kills per set and 2.92 digs per set. Bennett came up clutch multiple times in the match against Eastern Michigan, including in the third and fourth sets on the brink of defeat.
Joining Gillett was senior Kelsey Bennett, who came in tied second for total kills with 26 over the three games and a .239 attack percent. Celeste Darling became the de facto third option, also recording 26 kills. She played arguably the cleanest games of the team’s main hitters, with just eight errors through the team’s 13 sets.
Leading the team in solo and assisted blocks were junior Kara Barnes and sophomore Cami Hicks; the versatile middle blockers averaged 10 blocks a game combined and 1.46 and .85 blocks per set respectively. No slouches on offense, they combined for 39 kills and 95 total attacks.
Also critical to the team’s success were: junior and sophomore setters Reka Kotorman and Siena DeCambra, who were first and second in assists for the team and put up 20+ assists five out of six times over the three matches; junior outside hitter Mya Wilson; and freshman hitter Lauryn Hill.