For the first time in 21 years, the volleyball Bears’ season is over before the Missouri Valley Conference tournament begins.
Missouri State got off to a rough start this season — 3-11 in nonconference play — and never fully recovered. The Bears snapped their 19-straight winning-season streak, finishing 10-22 overall. The volleyball team hasn’t ended a season 10 or more games below .500 since records started being kept in 1972.
The Bears were forced to find new leadership after 23 years of dominating seasons.
Former head coach Melissa Stokes resigned on Aug. 12 following the discovery of NCAA violations within the program.
Stokes accumulated a 509-243 career record in over two decades at Missouri State.
Following Stokes’ leave, Manolo Concepción took over as interim head coach after being brought on the staff as an associate head coach in March 2019.
Concepción took over head coaching duties when the investigation began, taking on day-to-day operations.
While coaching changes happen all the time, they don’t always happen 18 days before the first game of the year.
“I learned to adapt quickly to a role I wasn’t expecting to have when I came to MSU,” Concepción said. “But, although the title changed, the task was the same: to lead a team through adversity with the help of amazing assistant coaches that were committed to excellence.”
Tough conference losses
Following the quick turnaround time, the Bears began conference action 1-5 compared to last season’s 4-3 start. Of the five losses, four were complete sweeps.
The tough stretch continued from there. Missouri State went 1-12 in September, with a 3-1 sole win over Kansas State. Eight of the 12 losses were sweeps.
Missouri State split the season with five teams including Illinois State, Bradley, Valparaiso, Indiana State and Southern Illinois.
Northern Iowa, Loyola and Evansville swept Missouri State in the regular season. Drake was Missouri State’s highlight, defeating the Bulldogs twice.
The Bears went 7-11 in conference play which was not good enough to be in the top six for the MVC tournament. Missouri State hadn’t missed the postseason since 1998.
Part of the struggle was finding players to suit up. As of Nov. 13, seven players missed a total of 77 matches due to injury. Sophomore Amelia Flynn, freshman Brooklyn Cink, sophomore Sarabi Worsley-Gilbert, sophomore Alyssa Doucette, freshman Holly Luginbill, senior Aubrey Cheffey and junior Emelie Orlando all missed some playing time over the course of the 2019 season.
Despite the lack of success against Valley foes, Missouri State finished 9-7 at home. It’s the 21st straight year above .500 at Hammons Student Center for the Bears.
Missouri State finished its season with a strong 3-4 in November, the most recent home win over Southern Illinois on senior night on Nov. 22.
The senior class of Cheffey and Gerri Idos capped its Missouri State career with 81 wins, two MVC regular-season titles and two NCAA tournament appearances.
While the senior class is no stranger to the success and history of Missouri State volleyball, the sophomore class is en route to creating its own storybook ending.
The sophomores led in three statistical categories this season: kill average, total kills and total digs.
This means the sophomore class led the season in both offensive and defensive categories, scoring points and keeping plays alive.
Chloe Rear made history this season recording five triple-doubles, the most of any Bear since 1989.
Azyah Green became the first freshman for Missouri State to collect 120 blocks in one season since 2008.
Fourth-year junior Laynie Dake led the Bears in total kills with 300, becoming the first middle to do so for Missouri State since 2009.
Dake will not return to Missouri State next year, but Concepción said she played a vital role in helping the team through tough times this season.
“We were lucky to count on such a strong, transformational leader like Laynie Dake to help us spread the vision,” Concepción said.
Concepción said he was proud of the girls’ willingness to accept and embrace change.
“This transition has been hard on everyone, including coaches,” Concepción said. “So there was a period of adaptation from each component. But we managed to stay on course, training and developing, making sure that the growth of the program kept moving forward, establishing a base for the future to come.”
Now that the season has concluded, a nationwide search begins to find a new head coach, as had been the plan all along.