SDSU volleyball looks to turn corner in 2019

Victoria Berndt, Sports Reporter

After four years of program reconstruction, optimism surrounds the South Dakota State University volleyball team heading into the 2019 season and the enthusiasm is spearheaded by fifth-year head coach Nicole Cirillo.

The Jackrabbits went 6-23 last season and were picked to finish second to last in the 2019 Summit League preseason poll, but expectations within the team are focused on this year’s talent pool, not past results.

“We have a lot of options and versatility this year. We are deep in every position and are extremely excited to get started this season,” Cirillo said.

The roster is composed of 15 players – eight of which are new faces. With the number of new players, practices have been filled with competition.

“In order to make those decisions on who those starters are going to be and what drives these athletes, it was a competition piece for me,” Cirillo said. “That is something very different we haven’t done or been able to do until this year because we are so much more skilled overall.”

The 2019 roster features two seniors who have been with Cirillo through the rebuilding process. Outside hitters Makenzie Hennen and Ashlynn Smith were part of Cirillo’s first recruiting class and will be looked to for guidance on such a young team. 

“Those two girls are leaders. They have pushed and had patience with the program from four years ago. They have been in the thick of it,” said Cirillo.

Both Hennen and Smith were named to the Summit League’s 2019 Volleyball Players to Watch and will be vital to rebuilding the image of Jackrabbit volleyball.

In order to change perceptions about Jackrabbit volleyball, Cirillo wants her team to play with a sense of urgency in each match — no opponent will be overlooked.

“With the rebuilding of the program, people come into our gym and think that this is an easy win,” Cirillo said. “The past two years they have had to think about it more … Every match has to be viewed as a rival in order for us to push through.”

The Jacks open play Aug. 30-31 in Charleston, Illinois, as part of the Eastern Illinois University Panther Invitational, and will attend two more invitational tournaments before hosting their first home matches of the season Sept. 20-21 in the Comfort Suite University Jackrabbit Invitational. 

The team’s motto this year is the acronym “PERFORM” and it stands for: passion, execution, ready, family, ownership, resilience and maximize. Every week the girls have goals to prove how they met each word in “PERFORM,” whether it may be in their classes, practice or just in life.

“I am very excited for this season, but this is a different excitement for me and the program,” Cirillo said.