By Caleb Brown, Staff Reporter
Howard University’s 5-time defending MEAC champion volleyball program has put themselves in prime position to crack the NCAA’s coveted top 25 rankings. In order to achieve this goal, the Lady Bison must be able to not only compete with, but beat nationally ranked teams like Baylor and Stanford, as well as have one of the best overall records in the country.
“We want to be in the top 25,… a nationally ranked program and compete against other top-ranked programs in the country,” Head Coach Shaun Kupferberg says.
The Bison are ready to “blow through teams,” according to Outside Hitter Marcelle Butler. She mentioned the team is used to “holding on by a thread” or losing to teams that they should’ve dominated. The sophomore is looking forward to seeing the advancement of the team as they take their level of play up a notch.
Butler and Outside Hitter Myca Mitchell, a transfer from Wake Forest, agreed on this matter. With a year under her belt as a Bison, Mitchell is looking to be the “team to beat” in this upcoming season and win another MEAC championship to keep the streak alive.
Last season, the Bison had a record of 20 wins and 13 losses. Out of these, eight matches were decided in the final fifth set. This season, they have a chance to capitalize on some of the opportunities they have during these tough matches so that they won’t require a final winner take all set.
Fortunately for the Bison, only two seniors were lost after last season, so the majority of the championship-winning team will be returning. Outside hitter Kailyn “KJ” Williams said that the team is taking a step back to mentally regroup so that they may work and play together as a team this upcoming year. With this regrouping, the team should be able to build off of the success of last year and continue to make strides towards their goal of becoming a top 25 nationally ranked team.
With there only being two seniors on the team last year, some of the freshman recruits were called upon to step up and contribute potentially more than freshmen in previous years. Middle Blocker Tamar Wells and Outside Hitter Macy Witt-Nobles did just that. In this off-season, Wells is taking time to build up some of the skills in the areas that aren’t as strong as they could be. She’s being pushed to get out of her comfort zone and maybe try out some playing time on the back row as well as serving. Thus, allowing her to be a more rounded player, which will help the team in the long run.
Witt-Nobles mentioned the season was “full of ups and downs” after being thrust into the action as a freshman, which required her to raise her level of play. She is currently taking steps to become the leader her coaches are expecting her to be.
Leadership isn’t something that is lacking on this team. Last season, Outside Hitter Jurnee Tipton was chosen by her coaches to be team captain and floor general during matches. There was one distinct moment when her leadership was put on display. It came during the MEAC Championship match against the Morgan State Bears. Morgan State was going on a run and she called everyone in to speak to slow the game down and allow everyone to get a breather. She says in these moments, she likes to keep her teammates calm because “if we’re nervous, then we won’t be able to get done what needs to get done.”
One of the many reasons Tipton has been able to thrive in these situations is because of the guidance from Assistant Coach Ciara Jones. Jones, who was a hall of fame volleyball player at Marquette University, has done her best to instill all of the knowledge she learned at Marquette into her players.
She also is pushing them to be aggressive in every form of their game and to believe in themselves. She says, “just because other teams have a bigger name on their shirt doesn’t mean that they are better than you.”
Coach Jones says she’s extremely tough on them at practice, and this off-season has been no different.
“This spring season has been kicking our butts,” says Libero Abby Morrow.
Morrow, who will be a senior in the fall, plans to take every moment in this final season—hoping to make it back to the big dance one last time so she can leave Howard with a ring on almost every finger.