Averett volleyball went winless over the weekend against a trio of nationally ranked teams at the Christopher Newport University Invitational, but the matches served their purpose in preparing the Cougars for the USA South tournament.
As the top seed in the conference’s East Division, Averett opens play in the tournament today against the winner of fourth-seeded Salem and fifth-seeded Greensboro. The lower seeds will play at 5 p.m. at Averett’s E. Stuart James Grant Center, and the Cougars will play the winner at 7:30 p.m.
Averett (17-15, 14-2 USA South) is coming off losses to Virginia Wesleyan, Salisbury and Christopher Newport, but head coach Danny Miller was pleased with his team’s effort.
“The weekend didn’t go great, and part of it was just working on some different things, playing really tough teams,” he said. “We competed hard, but we also rested some players.”
The Cougars were swept by Virginia Wesleyan and CNU, but they took Salisbury to five sets. All three teams are ranked in the top 10 of their respective regions in NCAA Division III.
Over the course of the three matches, sophomore Sarah Shropshire tallied 21 kills and 17 digs, junior McKenzie Miller collected 53 assists and freshman Lauren Montren posted 19 kills and 32 digs.
At least as far as the conference seeds indicate, Averett should have an easier time with today’s opponent.
Miller and his team will keep an eye on the match before theirs today, but they don’t expect to change their strategy depending on the opponent.
“We pretty much know what they’re going to do,” he said. “Unless we see something unique or different, you kind of already know what you’ve planned for.”
The Cougars are a combined 4-0 against Salem and Greensboro this season. Averett defeated Greensboro on the road in four sets Oct. 9 and swept the Pride on Oct. 30 at home. The Cougars also beat Salem 3-1 Oct. 1 at home and again in five sets Oct. 22 on the road. The Spirits were one of just five teams to take Averett to five sets this season.
Despite sweeping the regular-season meetings with both teams, Miller has cautioned his team against looking ahead. Still, he and his team realize, as a top seed, they are positioned well for success throughout the tournament.
If Averett wins today, it will host the conference’s semifinals Friday. With a win Friday, the Cougars would play in the league championship match Saturday, also at home.
“So as long as we compete hard and play hard, I like our chances,” Miller said.
At this stage in the season, there isn’t much last-minute scouting left to do of conference opponents. Instead, Miller prefers to make sure all in-house affairs are in order.
“My coaching style has always been to take care of your side of the net because you can’t always control what they’re doing anyway,” Miller said. “They can stick an arm out and make a one-handed, perfect dig. You can’t plan for that, but you can play the percentages — your defense, you’re getting set in what you need to do. The big thing is making sure we do the things we want to do.”
Parker Cotton is a sports reporter at the Martinsville Bulletin and Danville Register & Bee. You can reach him at (276) 638-8801 ext. 215. Follow @ByParkerCotton.