For most teams, transition seasons tend to be a struggle.
For the Missouri State volleyball team, the Bears remained competitive and went 17-15, 10-8 in Missouri Valley Conference play.
Former head coach Melissa Stokes said she can’t recall a team she has had younger than the one featured during the 2018 campaign.
Stokes resigned after an investigation found NCAA violations within the program.
“There was a time early last year when I wondered if we were going to have a winning record,” Stokes said. “I liked the way we finished out and the fact we did have another winning season for the program. That was pretty impressive with the number of young players we did have on the team.”
The fall senior class is focused on making it back to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years.
Under the leadership of seniors Aubrey Cheffey and Gerri Idos, the team has spent the summer working in the gym. Missouri State also traveled and played in six matches throughout Europe from May 23 to June 4.
Stokes said the NCAA allows the team to take a foreign trip every four years, which is funded privately by players and staff members to make the trip happen.
Coming off back-to-back conference championships in 2016 and 2017, the Bears used the trip to Europe to blend a mix of veteran and young talent together.
“We are really proud of the fact we did it all on our own,” Stokes said. “It was a great experience jump starting into the 2019 season.”
With leaders like Lily Johnson and Emily Butters graduating over the last two years, Stokes is looking to Cheffey and Idos to lead the way this fall.
Junior Laynie Dake said this year’s team will be capable of great things this fall.
“Above all else, we are hoping to build a great culture and really set our sights on big things,” Dake said. “I think we have all the pieces to make it happen.”
Stokes said she has already set lofty goals for this year’s team. On paper, Stokes said this team has a strong chance of finishing in the top of the Valley and returning to the NCAA Tournament.
“We are going to have the caliber of athletes that can get us there in the next couple of years,” Stokes said. “It is going to be an exciting season, for sure. The goal is to get back to the NCAA tournament. I truly believe that is a realistic goal for 2019, 2020 and 2021 moving forward. I’m really excited about the future of our program.”
The Missouri State beach volleyball team set a new standard with a winning record in their second season as a program.
Missouri State went 12-7 the rest of the way which was an improvement from 7-10 in 2018.
Head coach Terri Del Conte said looking back the team put in a tremendous amount of work and having a full offseason was the biggest difference in their win-loss improvement from 2019 to 2018.
“We had the majority of the team being prepared throughout the offseason versus year one,” Del Conte said. “We started with one athlete in the offseason. Obviously, a huge difference with that. We were able to train more with a lot more intent earlier on.”
Sophomore Kylee Davis said she is proud of how far the beach volleyball team came from the beginning of the season to the end.
“I came in with not a lot of expectations,” Davis said. “We proved that we are a force to be reckoned with.”
Del Conte will have over half of a new squad coming in for the 2020 season with a combination of beach experience and beach training.
Now that it is year three, Del Conte expects the returning players to be even more seasoned.
“Two years under their belt, they will have a good feel of the system, the program and of the sport because all of them are still new to the sport,” Del Conte said. “I expect them to bring experience, maturity, leadership and help take the younger ones under their wing and bring them into the program’s culture.”
Del Conte described the newcomers as “ballers,” coming into the program with prior training and experience from coaches.
Davis said she expects the team to be more competitive next year, turning close losses into wins.
“We will be a very young team next year,” Davis said. “That will allow us to grow tremendously together over the next few years.”
After achieving the program’s first winning season, Del Conte’s expectations have grown even higher going into next year.
“I want to crack the top 20 in the nation,” Del Conte said. “I feel we will be a contender for the NCAA Tournament.”