SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Fresh off a 20-win season and a Big Sky Conference South Division championship, the Sacramento State volleyball squad, equipped with 12 returners and four starters, will be back on the court for its first official practice tomorrow (Tuesday, Aug. 8).
Tenth-year head coach Ruben Volta will hold practices twice a day on most days beginning on Tuesday, and running through Aug. 23. The team will host its annual Alumni Game on Saturday, Aug. 19, and depart for New York on Aug. 23 in preparation for its season-opening tournament in Queens, N.Y., on Aug. 25-26.
Last year, Sacramento State posted a 20-12 overall record, a 13-3 mark in the Big Sky, and the team was perfect at home against conference opposition (8-0). The Hornets finished the regular season with eight straight wins and eventually pushed that winning streak to nine with a Big Sky Tournament quarterfinal victory over Eastern Washington. Sacramento State's season came to an end in the semifinal round of the tournament with a 3-1 loss to Northern Arizona.
The Hornets have posted back-to-back seasons with 20-plus wins, combining for a 46-19 overall mark and 25-7 in league over that span. The team has not lost a home match to a conference team since 2014, going 8-0 inside the Nest each of the last two seasons.
Among this year's returners are starters at setter (senior Kennedy Kurtz), outside hitter (senior Shannon Boyle, junior Mikaela Nocetti) and middle blocker (junior Brie Gathright). Kurtz was a first team all-conference selection after quarterbacking an offense that finished first in the league in both kills (13.80) and assists (12.83) per set. Kurtz was 14th in the nation with an average of 11.29 assists per set. Boyle was a second team all-league choice after leading the team in kills with 3.49 per set.
Also returning are seniors Hannah Meadows, Brigitte Murdock, Julia Wright and Erin Cochran, juniors Lana Brown and Skyler Takeda, and sophomores Sarah Davis and Paige Swinney. The four newcomers are freshmen Cianna Andrews, Sarah Falk, Macey Hayden and Ashtin Olin.
Sacramento State will have to compensate for the losses of rightside hitter Madeline Cannon, middle blocker Courtney Dietrich and libero Lexie Skalbeck. All three received second team all-league honors a year ago and Skalbeck was named the Big Sky's Libero of the Year.
The Hornets' roster features 16 players, made up of six seniors, four juniors, two sophomores and four freshmen. The roster breaks down to five outside hitters, five middle blockers, two setters and four defensive specialists.
During the Hornets' season-opening tournament in Queens on Aug. 25-26, Sacramento State will play UConn and host St. John's on Friday, and both Holy Cross and New Hampshire on Saturday. The Hornets will play 11 of their first 12 matches away from Colberg Court with the home opener scheduled to take place on Aug. 30 vs. Pacific at 7 p.m.
• After spending two years as a volunteer assistant, John Fluette was elevated to assistant coach. He takes over for Aven Lee, who was named the director of volleyball operations at Hawai'i, which is her alma mater.
• Sacramento State took an 11-day tour of China from May 31-June 10 that included six matches against local college and junior professional teams. The Hornets spent three days in Shanghai, followed by three days in Nanjing, and the rest of the trip took place in Beijing. The trip was inspired by former longtime assistant coach Weidi Zhang and was the first abroad for Sacramento State volleyball.
• Sacramento State's schedule includes 32 regular season matches, comprised of 10 at home, 13 on the road, and nine at neutral sites. The Hornets will be facing a number of opponents for the first or second times in school history. Sacramento State will take on St. John's, Holy Cross, Bowling Green and Northern Kentucky for the first time ever. In addition, the Hornets will face UConn (win in 2002), New Hampshire (win in 2009), Missouri (win in 1991) and Seattle (win in 2011) for the just the second time ever. Sacramento State's matchup with Pepperdine will mark just the third meeting between the two teams, and first since 1998.
• For the fourth straight year, the Big Sky will split its 12 member schools into two divisions. In the South Division, Sacramento State is with Idaho State, Northern Arizona, Portland State, Southern Utah and Weber State. The North Division is comprised of Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, Montana State, North Dakota and Northern Colorado. The Hornets will play each team in the South on two occasions, and will play once against each team in the North. The Big Sky Tournament will take place Nov. 16-18 at the site of the regular season champion.
• Since volleyball became a sport at Sacramento State, the program has compiled a 967-439 overall record (.688 winning percentage).
• Despite combining for 221 kills during her first two seasons, Boyle could finish with 1,000 career kills. The fourth-year senior had a team-best 398 kills a year ago, and if she matches that total this season, she would finish with 1,017 kills.
• Kurtz has posted at least 1,100 assists all three years of her career and is currently sixth in school history with 3,886 assists. If she matches the same amount of assists she had a year ago (1,343), she could wind up third in program history by the time this season concludes.