Delaware State is hoping the 2017 season marks the beginning of a turnaround for its volleyball program. The Hornets are counting on several solid veterans and an athletic group of newcomers in their quest to return the program to respectability in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference this season.
Third-year head coach Whitney Johnson squad is expected to return nine experienced players from last year’s squad, including four starters.
Topping the list of returners is defensive specialist Alliyah McBean (sr.), who was tops on the team and third in the MEAC in digs at 4.09 per set (376 total) in 2016. She was also second on the Hornets with 15 service aces last season. McBean has recorded 809 digs in her three seasons with the Hornets.
Delaware State has a reliable setter in senior Gabriella Enriquez, entering he second season with the team after transferring from New Mexico Military Academy in 2016. Enriquez was the Hornets’ leader and ranked 10th in the MEAC in assists at 6.19 per set (446) despite missing six contests due to injury last season. She’s also one of the team’s top servers, collecting 14 aces in 2016.
The Hornets are also counting on another 2016 JUCO transfer, outside hitter Sabina Szmajduch (sr.), to emerge as a bigger threat this season. Szmajduch, who also missed six matches due to injury last season, was No. 1 on the Hornets with 157 total kills in 2016 (2.21 per set).
The 2017 Hornets will also rely on versatile middle blocker NaKia Jones (jr.) this season. Jones was fourth on the Hornets with 94 kills (1.42 p/s) and second in blocks with 43 (0.65 p/s) as a junior last year.
Delaware State is also expected to be bolstered by the return of a healthy Sydney Armbrister (jr.), whose 2016 season was cut short by injury. Before the injury, Armbrister was second on the team in kills per set at 1.72 (86 total). She also had 70 digs and 22 blocks in her abbreviated 2016 season.
Senior Morgan Tennant, listed as a setter, became the Hornets’ most consistent server in her first season with the team in 2016. Tennant was tops on the Hornets with 23 services aces (0.31 per set) and chipped in with 135 assists in part-time duty last season.
Outside hitter Danyelle Tucker (jr.) also returns after recording 53 kills, 83 digs and 14 blocks as a sophomore in 2016.
The 2017 newcomers include a middle blocker, setter, outside hitter and libero.
Leimaluhia Taula (jr.), a former teammate of Gabriella Enriquez at New Mexico Military Academy, is a newcomer at the libero position for the Hornets this season. She helped lead NMMA to a regional championship in 2016. Taula was also a high school and club/AAU standout in Utah before her junior college career.
Outside hitter Mayah Ngundam (fr.) helped lead Bowie (Md.) High School to a better than .900 win percentage, along with four county and regional championships during her four-year scholastic career.
Middle blocker (fr.) Kiera Holtzclaw joins the Hornets this season after a stellar career Arundel (Md.) High School. During her scholastic career, Holtzclaw was an All-County First Team selection and helped lead her team to two regional championships.
The Hornets also welcome incoming setter Jade Williams (fr.) to the team after a standout career at Bishop McNamara High School in Maryland. She was the conference leader in digs and ranked in the state in service aces as a senior in 2016.
“I believe we have addressed our most pressing needs for the upcoming season with the new signees,” said Johnson. “Each of the newcomers is capable of improving our team right away.”
Delaware State opens the 2017 season against host Morehead State in the Morehead Invitational on Aug. 25. The home opener is Sep. 20 vs, Quinnipiac.