“Once we got over that hump of competing and winning games, it turned into a string of wins,” Symons said.
The team’s “string of wins” lasted 17 straight matches at one point in the season as the Lady Braves were the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference champions with a 30-6 overall record and a perfect 18-0 in conference play. It was just the second time in program history that the team had a 30-win season, according to the OU athletic website.
After dispatching Kansas Wesleyan University in the KCAC tournament finals 25-22, 25-16, 25-19, the Lady Braves’ season came to an end Nov. 17 at the hands of No. 23 Bellevue University in the opening round of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Volleyball Championship. The team lost 25-17, 22-25, 25-18, 25-15 on the road at the Gordon Lozier Center in Bellevue, Neb.
This year, OU was picked third in the conference in the coaches’ preseason polls behind Kansas Wesleyan and Tabor College with 64 total votes and three first place votes. Symons notes the loss of key players from last season who had significant experience with the Lady Braves. Chrissie Jeannin, last year’s KCAC setter of the year and honorable mention NAIA All-American, Kristen Hendrickson, outside hitter, and Katie Jenson, defensive specialist, were all four-year starters for the team, Symons said.
“They were here in the beginning when (the team) wasn’t so great and are leaving after one of the best seasons in program history,” Symons said.
Despite the loss of key starters, Symons said there is a core group of returners on this year’s squad. Nicole Gingery, senior middle blocker, and Allie Arnold, junior middle blocker, were both selected to the 2013 KCAC Preseason Team. Gingery led the team in kills last season with 350 on her way to First-Team All-KCAC honors. Arnold wasn’t far behind with 279 kills, fourth on the team, and led the team in total blocks with 118.
“(Arnold and Gigery) will both be competing for the starting (middle blocker) position,” Symons said.
“(Bridge and Colson) give us back a nice nucleus of returners,” Symons said. “It is going to be important to (the returners) to bring our new layers up to speed. We have an athletic group of players that can play different positions.”
The team begins the regular season at 3 p.m. Aug. 30 at the Bruin Labor Day Classic tournament in Bellevue against Northwestern College. Although Bellevue University hosts the tournament, Symons said OU will not get the chance to play the team they lost to last season.
“I have this as our toughest schedule in my five years,” Symons said. “It is a tournament that has great competition, and every year the KCAC gets better.”
The Lady Braves open up KCAC play 7 p.m. Sept. 11 at home against Bethany College.
OU players selected to the 2013 KCAC Volleyball Preseason Team announced Thursday:
• Nicole Gingery, senior middle blocker (2012 first team selection)
• Allie Arnold, junior middle blocker (2012 second team and preseason selection)