Racer Volleyball team

The Murray State volleyball team is preparing to defending their OVC title with the season opener on Aug. 30 on the road against Valparasio at the IUPUI Hampton Inn Invitational.

MURRAY — The Murray State volleyball team held the first practice of the new season Tuesday morning, marking the first time the team has practiced together as a whole.

After starting 0-3 in conference play last year, the Racers went on a 13-game winning streak to finish out the regular season and win the regular-season OVC championship. They continued their dominance with an OVC tournament championship before finally losing a game to the University of Kentucky in the NCAA tournament.

Now, it’s back to the basics for the team, which helps both the returners and new players get reacclimated to playing the game of volleyball.

“We’re doing a lot of technical work,” Head Coach Dave Schwepker said. “It’s just small stuff. This is the same kind of technical work I would do if I were training somebody just starting to play ball because we’ve really got to make sure we’ve got our basics perfect.”

Although the team lost two valuable seniors last year, Schwepker is not at all concerned about the level of experience his team possesses.

“We had two seniors last year,” he said. “Dacia Brown was a primary player for us. She played every match and started for us and was first-team all-conference. That’s a huge loss, losing her and Liza Gober, but then we have everybody else coming back. We’ve got a lot of experience coming back, a lot of great girls coming back. It’s not like we lost four or five seniors that all started for us, so it’s a big loss, but we’ve got everybody else back for another year. It’s unbelievable. The more they stay together, the better your team’s gonna be. That’s for sure.”

Team captain Courtney Radle is excited for the season to begin.

“We’ve kind of all been together for three years now, so we’re experienced,” she said. “We know what each other can bring to the team. We know what to expect, so we’re kind of just building off of that this year so we can keep growing together.”

That kind of close relationship is essential for a successful volleyball team.

“Last year, they all got along,” Schwepker said. “They all were supportive of each other, and that’s very, very good. I hope that continues.”

Incoming freshman Emma Kailiponi can’t wait to become part of that special team bond.

“I’m most excited to get to know everybody and get to know this team and just practice with them and get closer to them and to see how everyone is when we’re playing in the games,” Kailiponi said. “I’m looking forward to playing.”

Kailiponi admitted she is nervous about playing for a new team but plans to work on her passing and her ability to take charge in the back row.

She will get plenty of opportunities to improve during the team’s preseason practices. Schwepker is hosting practices three times a day until school starts: two hours in the morning, three hours in the afternoon and two hours again at night. That’s when the girls will be working on fundamentals.

“Then, after that, we’ll have regular three or four-hour practices,” Schwepker said. “We’ll come in. We’ll do skill work, and then we actually start running a volleyball tournament. We run a tournament each day in practice. We learn through playing. We will learn everything new, our skills, things we wanna work on, through playing as opposed to doing drills.”

The team has a lot of important events lined up for the season.

“I love to go out and compete against everybody. I take each one as it goes, and I’m just excited about going to each one. It’s all volleyball. It’s all the season,” Schwepker said.

Radle is looking forward to an opportunity to play against an extremely competitive school.

“We get to go to Purdue this year, so that’s super fun. They’re a Big-10 school, one of the biggest teams we’ve played, so that’ll be exciting,” Radle said. 

The Lady Racers have one simple yet challenging goal for the season. It’s the same goal they have every year: to win.

“We want to win every match we play in,” Schwepker said. “We want to win the regular season, so if we win every match, we’ll win the regular season. We want to win the conference tournament, and, then, we just want to win all the way through the NCAA tournament. Everybody knows the purpose of why we’re here: to win. That’s why we’re here.”

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