Three takeaways: 2019 San Diego State volleyball season

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Sam Mayo

Junior outside hitter Erin Gillcrist gets the ball over the net in the Aztecs’ 3-1 win over Air Force on Nov. 14 at Peterson Gym.

by Breven Honda, Staff Writer

San Diego State volleyball finished 15-14 and in fifth place of the Mountain West Conference. 

Head coach Deitre Collins-Parker said this season was positive considering the team’s youth.

“Overall, it’s a success,” Collins-Parker said. “With the talent we lost last year, we definitely walk away from this season knowing that we exceeded expectations.”

Here are three takeaways from the Aztecs’ 2019 season.

SDSU finishes season on a high note

After starting 2-7 in MWC play, the Aztecs finished the season winning six of its last nine matches. 

During the nine-match span where they played 32 sets, they only lost three sets by more than six points.  

Collins-Parker said going 6-3 to end the year was the right way to finish.

“The record says six of nine, but nine of nine we played really hard,” Collins-Parker said. “We walked into those matches playing some of the best volleyball we played. Down the stretch, they came into practice and got to reap the rewards of what that feels like.” 

SDSU was able to finish strong because of its back-row defense. 

With defensive specialist trio Loren Teter, Lauren Lee and Sam McGrath alongside sophomore outside hitter Maddie Lenn and senior outside hitter Hannah Turnlund, the Aztecs became a force in the back row.  

“We felt like passing and defense was holding us back in the middle of the season,” Collins-Parker said. “That crew decided to be better and that’s what turned our season around. We stayed in games because we dug balls.” 

Teter led the team with 3.6 digs per set and ranked seventh in the MWC. 

“It was good to see her numbers go up and it added to the confidence someone believes in,” Collins-Parker said. 

Turnlund had a 2.08 digs per set clip as she was able to perform both defensively and offensively. 

Offensively, Turnlund reached a milestone with her 1,000th kill and finished with 1,123 career kills. 

Collins-Parker said Turnlund’s work ethic came with poise and focus.

“She is a workhorse for the team,” Collins-Parker said. “Her leadership has always been by how hard she works. Seeing her deal with adversity with her knee hurting so bad, she set a great example to maximize her abilities.”

Reeves posts highest percentage since 1995 

Senior middle blocker Tamia Reeves had a season to remember. 

In SDSU’s final match against Boise State on Nov. 23, Reeves recorded a season-high .727 hitting percentage and improved her season percentage to .404. 

The 6-foot-1 middle blocker finished second in the conference and was one of 16 players in the country to record at least a .400 hitting percentage in the category. 

Collins-Parker said Reeves’ hitting percentage represents her consistency and fight she had to do something only one other person has done in program history (Jennifer Harrison at .412 back in 1995).

“To be able to hit .400 in any conference is a really hard feat,” Collins-Parker said. “What is most suppressive about that number is that you don’t make errors. She was always the underdog physically and found a way.”

Reeves was one of three Aztecs be named to the all-MWC team. The other two were Turnlund and sophomore setter Camryn Machado.

Machado, sophomores produce positive seasons

Machado recorded 13 double-doubles despite not playing in 2018 due to injury.

Collins-Parker said Machado’s energy throughout the season was crucial for her to have a starting role.

“She knew this year, she wanted to be that person,” Collins-Parker said. “She walked in the gym with confidence. She did all things necessary to earn that and we were all surprised.”

Two other sophomores had seasons to remember: outside hitter Victoria O’Sullivan and middle blocker Andrea Walker. 

Collins-Parker said Walker has learned a lot as she developed into a starter for the next couple of years.

“She is a student of the game,” Collins-Parker said. “She wants to get it right. It’s exciting to see how fast she is. Nobody was as fast as she was.”

O’Sullivan finished sixth in the MWC with 3.20 kills per set and Collins-Parker said O’Sullivan will work on expanding her game in the spring.

“Athletically, (O’Sullivan) is at the top of the conference,” Collins-Parker said. “She hit at a high percentage for an outside hitter. She’ll continue to improve her all-around game. It’s one of her goals to stay on the court and play in the back row.”

With the core group of O’Sullivan, Walker, Machado and junior outside hitter Erin Gillcrist returning next season, Collins-Parker will try to rebuild a winning environment.

“One of the hardest things to build in athletics is culture,” Collins-Parker said. “This group is ready to really leave something better behind. We’re changing the culture of the program, getting back to where it was and having all the good matches that we had against good teams.”  

After a five-match increase this year, Collins-Parker said the message going into the offseason is to learn from this season while trying to heighten the outlook of the program. 

“We got a good group that wants it,” Collins-Parker said. “The task to improve our ball control, minimize our errors and raise the level of this team’s expectations. We have to be competing at the top.”

Breven Honda is a junior studying journalism. Follow him on Twitter @BrevenHonda.

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