Spires volleyball loaded with talent, seeking third straight national tournament berth
The Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference held its first-ever media day for volleyball Monday in a virtual format through Facebook Live.
University of Saint Mary head coach Amy Beall spoke on the program's returning talent as well as the addition of impactful newcomers and how both will blend together.
Beall is entering her sixth season at Saint Mary and has amassed a 100-80 record over her first five seasons, including a regular-season conference championship in 2019 and two NAIA national tournament berths (2019, 2020).
The Spires are coming off a solid 15-14 season that saw them start 0-8 while navigating inconsistent scheduling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Saint Mary salvaged the season, winning 11 of the final 15 regular-season games to qualify for the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament. The Spires advanced to the conference championship and fell to Ottawa University but claimed an at-large bid in the opening round of the NAIA Tournament before falling to the University of Jamestown. It marked the second national tournament appearance for the Spires' program after the 2019 squad advanced past the opening round.
"We're hoping COVID stays away and we can keep it off campus so we can stay as normal as possible," Beall said. "Especially after the year and the struggles we had last year, we're looking forward to some normalcy."
The Spires will have the majority of their top performers back from last season including Haydan Heuermann (team assist leader), Rylee Kenitzer (team kill leader), Jessica Malizzi (second on team in kills) and Keishla Reyes (team dig leader). Beall also mentioned that returning middle Hannah Vanriette has impressed in practice so far.
Saint Mary will supplement their returning talent with Pittsburg State sophomore transfer Keagan Shockley, Abby Hairell (Eastfield Community College), Madison Folsom (Maur Hill Mount Academy), Alli Puetz (Garden City), Rebecca Sprague (Iola) and Mattie Dougherty (Allen Community College).
"We're really, really excited with the potential that we have coming in," Beall said. "It's nice to see in practice, we have two sides that compete just lights out crazy and in the eight practices that we've had, we can already see the improvement taking place."
Beall said the amount of competition within the program is leading to some tough decisions.
"The hardest part of coaching and the worst job for a coach to have is trying to figure out who's gonna go where and who doesn't get to travel and all those things," she said, "because they're all working so hard and all very deserving."
Saint Mary opens the campaign with the KCAC Fall Fling Friday in Hutchinson. Two of the Spires' three matchups will be against programs that are receiving votes in national polling, in Dakota Wesleyan and Texas Weslayen. They will also face Mid America Christian. The Spires will have 12 more nonconference matchups in a span of 32 days following the KCAC Fling before opening conference play against Tabor Sept. 22.
The Spires were voted fourth in the KCAC Coaches Preseason Poll behind Kansas Wesleyan. Ottawa led the way with 12 first-place votes, followed by McPherson with one first-place vote.
"We want to continue competing where we've been at," Beall said, "toward the top of the conference. We work toward that every single day in our practices."