Consistency is the keyword for the College of Coastal Georgia volleyball team this season.
The Mariners are entering their fourth season under the direction of head coach Leah Mihm, and they’re looking to improve on a campaign that saw them return to NAIA Volleyball Championship after a year away.
Coastal Georgia went 22-12 (13-5 The Sun Conference) last season and grabbed the TSC Tournament crown to earn a spot in the national tournament, where it fell in the opening round. Despite the loss, it was a strong bounce back year for the Mariners after a 2017-18 season in which the team finished 11-14 with a loss in the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament.
Another strong season would go a long way to establishing the type of program consistency the Mariners achieved from 2014-16 when they won 30 or more games en route to appearances in the national tournament for three consecutive seasons.
Expectations are high for Coastal Georgia, which was selected as favorites in The Sun Conference by league coaches after receiving six of nine first-place votes in the conference preseason poll.
“We feel very honored to have been selected as number one in the preseason poll by The Sun Conference coaches,” Mihm said in a statement. “There are incredible teams in The Sun Conference and for my fellow conference coaches to acknowledge our team in this way is exciting and very humbling.
“We look forward to the challenge this honor gives us and are ready to start conference play.”
But before the Mariners open conference play against St. Thomas on Sept. 4, they’ll test themselves at a trio of tournaments, beginning today when they face Loyola University and Xavier-Louisiana at the Early Bird Invitational in New Orleans. Coastal Georgia will also play matches against Cumberland University and No. 5 Viterbo on Saturday.
Coastal will return home the following week to host the Mariner Invitational at Howard Coffin Gym, where it’ll match up against Middle Georgia State College, St. Andrews, and West Virginia Institute of Technology.
On Aug. 30-31, Coastal Georgia is scheduled to travel down to Lake Wales, Fla., for a rematch of last year’s NAIA Volleyball Championship opener against Reinhardt University in addition to matches against Florida College, Montreat College and Oklahoma Wesleyan at the Warner Invitational.
“We are most excited about our three preseason tournaments. We will play non-conference teams that will better prepare us for our regular season matches” Mihm said.
Playing seven matches away from the friendly confides of home over the first three weeks of the season will give the Mariners the opportunity to reverse a three-year trend of struggles on the road. Over the last three seasons, Coastal Georgia is 31-6 at home compared to just 32-30 in road and neutral-site games.
Although the Mariners will return five seniors, three juniors, and five sophomores, along with four new freshmen/transfers, this season, they’ll likely feel the loss of middle blockers Kyra White and Alexis Downey, who were both named to the All-TSC First Team and the AVCA All-Region Team.
Sophomore Alison Muldrow transferred to Coastal Georgia from Sul Ross State to help fill the void at middle blocker, and sophomore Tamaira Laezza will step into a starting role after training with the senior duo last year.
“I am really proud of Tamaira for taking last season to listen and learn, and then in the Spring to see her implement what she learned. She has all the skills and the work ethic to make a strong middle blocker,” Mihm said.
The presence of senior Yorelis “JoJo” Rios Gonzalez should insure a strong defense, even as the Mariners break in their young frontline. Last season, after transferring from Daytona State, Gonzalez set the Coastal Georgia program record for digs in a season with 634, and digs per game at 5.61, as the team’s starting libero — earning a place on the All-TSC Second Team.
Molly Fletcher also returns to the Mariners fresh off a second team all- conference selection earned for a dynamic freshman season that saw her notch 183 kills, the third most on the team.
Coastal Georgia’s most decorated returner is Ashley Kot — a six-time TSC Player of the Week and First Team All-Conference member as the Setter of the Year. She also was also named to the Google Cloud NAIA Academic All District Team and the AVCA All-Region Team following a sophomore season in which she tallied 1,276 assists, the third most by a Mariner in a single season.
One new quirk Coastal Georgia could deploy this season is a dual-setter look after bringing in junior transfer Gardieliz Laureano Andujar, who played with Gonzalez at Daytona State. The addition could make the Mariners’ offense more potent by allowing them to utilize a 6-2 system that turns every position into a potential attacker.
“I am excited to get Gardieliz in the gym with the full team and see how she fits into our system,” Mihm said. “She is a calming presence on the court. She is very stable and is always asking her hitters what they need. That is a very good quality in a setter, it is something that you cannot teach.”