Troy Volleyball looking to make history

Published 9:11 am Friday, August 4, 2023

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The Troy University Volleyball program has never earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament in the program’s history, but Troy’s players and coaches plan to change that.

The Trojans open fall camp next week after working hard in the spring and the summer.

“Our players are very dedicated in the summer,” Troy Coach Josh Lauer said. “As coaches, we aren’t allowed to be in the gym or in the weight room with them during the summer, so it’s all voluntary and player-led. They did a good job with that and we’re very fortunate to have committed, good upperclassmen leadership that models how to do things the right way. It’s a big reason we’ve been able to have some success and be competitive over the last few years.”

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Troy is coming off the first back-to-back postseason appearances in school history and Lauer said that the team is concentrating on their mindset heading into fall camp.

“We talked a lot about making sure that we have the right mindset coming back that even though we’ve had a lot of success over the last couple of years, we will have to earn everything that comes our way this year,” he said. “None of what we did before, outside of being more respected as a program and having a little bit bigger target on our backs, has changed anything. If we think for one second we’re owed anything that’s not how it happens, we have to earn everything.”

A key to having the right mindset – and that leadership Lauer mentioned – is returning veteran players like All-Sun Belt senior middle hitter Julia Brooks and All-Sun Belt junior outside hitter Tori Hester.

Troy junior volleyball star Julia Brooks will represent the Sun Belt at the upcoming NCAA Leadership Forum. (Photo courtesy of Troy University Athletics)

“Anytime you can return two of your most experienced players – and two of your best offensive production players – no coach is going to complain about that,” Lauer said with a smile. “They’re also great people and great teammates that work really hard and are very respected and loved on the team, too. It’s easy to have them back.

“Julia is physical at the net, is an offensive threat and is one of the best blockers in our conference. She really sets the tone for us energy-wise. Tori is a stud and it was really fun to see her kind of have that breakout season last year. She battled through injury her first couple of years that sort of derailed her. She’s a difference maker, though.”
Brooks already holds the school record for career blocks and is ranked in the Top 10 in career kills, while Hester finished the season in the Top 15 in the entire country in kills. Hester’s 522 kills last season was the second-most in a season in school history. There are also other key returners across the lineup.

“Amiah Butler is the real deal. That position group, outside hitter, of Amiah, Sara Bates and Maleah Howe is really fun and they’ve worked really hard this spring and summer to improve their games,” Lauer said. “Amiah had a tremendous freshman year, 365 kills as a true freshman is big time. We’re super excited about what she is going to bring to the table, not just this year but in the future, as well.

“We have a great core coming back at our (defensive specialist), too. Caroline Darracott, Jaci Mesa and Olivia Grantham are really good. Grantham redshirted last year but had a really good spring and played well at some different roles splitting between serving substitution and DS.”

A big loss for the Trojans is the graduation of Amara Anderson, one of the best setters in school history who broke a number of school records.

“I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised by the skill and level of play of (sophomore setter) Janelle Stuempfig and freshman Addison Kersting,” Lauer emphasized. “It’s the first time in awhile that someone else will be in that role. Last year no one really knew about Janelle because she redshirted her first year, but she played a little (in 2022) and when she did play she played really well. Our system last year was more formatted to the one-setter system and I think that is where we’re headed again this year.

“Janelle did a really good job this spring and has a ton of trust and respect from her teammates and is one of the hardest workers we have and she’s super smart. It’s definitely a transition, a new era in the history of Troy Volleyball at the setter position, but I think people are going to love Janelle and I think Addie is going to come in and blossom and help our team, as well. It’s a fun position group for us.”

Lauer is also excited about a number of young players that will be vying for playing time at other positions.

“Our middle (hitter) group will be really competitive between (freshman) Audrey Worthington, (freshman) Sydney Austin and (redshirt freshman) Ella Broadhead,” he said. “They all three will be battling for some starting time and they all bring something different. Ella got the advantage of playing in the spring with the team and being in that role and the other two are true freshmen that are very physical. They are a presence at the net and that group is really fun.”

The Trojans have one of the tougher out-of-conference schedules in the country, starting the regular season on the road for eight straight matches before hosting Alabama in the regular season home debut on Sept. 14.

Josh Lauer and the Troy Trojans are looking to make history this season.

“I think we’re super excited about it,” Lauer said of the schedule. “We know it’s going to be tough but I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it. What I love about the character of our team is that they’re not afraid of the challenge.

“I think it’s really easy to look at our schedule and think, ‘What are you doing?’ I just believe in our players, that they won’t get rattled by playing big time volleyball.”

Of Troy’s first eight matches, six of those teams made it to the NCAA Tournament last season, including national runner-up Louisville. Troy will also play Wright State, Arkansas, Miami (Fla.), Washington State and Western Kentucky – all NCAA Tournament teams – during that stretch and all on the road.

“Win or lose, our focus is to be the best team we can be in November and December,” Lauer said. “This is what we feel like right now, for this group this is what we have to do. When we got to the end of last year, I think we learned a couple of things.

“We learned that our group is resilient and they love to compete against high level teams and being challenged. I think they handled that really well. We played five or six teams that made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and I think that prepared us to play our very best volleyball a the end of the year. Our thought was that if we can make (the schedule) a little bit harder maybe that’s the piece that puts us over the hump.”

That tough schedule, Lauer hopes can help the Trojans reach their ultimate goal: to make history.

“The goals for this year haven’t changed. For the last few years our goals have been to try and compete for a conference championship and we’re trying to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history,” he emphasized. “That’s what our players are hungry for and they set the tone. We feel like when our players have ownership of the direction of where we’re going – and it’s meaningful for them – it’s a lot easier for us as a staff to help them and guide them and mentor them towards those goals.

“We can pick out a place on the map of where we want the journey to go but then we quickly need to focus on the path and the process to get there.”

Troy will kick off the season at home for an exhibition game against Jacksonville State on Aug. 15.