BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Bethune-Cookman held a Media Day for its volleyball team for the first time on Sunday.
Isaac Raphael, the second-year head coach, looked calm while answering questions from the media.
“I’m thankful that you are here. We didn’t have this last year. Practice started out tough for our girls. We have worked extremely hard on the fundamentals. I think that we are ahead of last year,” said Raphael.
Senior outside hitters return after a record-breaking campaign last season. Both shattered the school’s single season record last season as Gardner had 479 and Davis 450.
“I’m looking forward to doing more this season. Last year it didn’t cross our minds until coaches started telling us. We want to continue it this year,” responded Gardner.
‘Bigger and better’
Davis agreed. “Last year was incredible. It’s amazing what we accomplished, but we want to do bigger and better this season. I think we have a better team this year.”
The two have embraced their roles as the leaders and face of the program.
“It’s a new and exciting experience. It’s very humbling. We want to take it on the best way that we can. We are getting more notoriety and our hard work is paying off,” responded Davis.
Gardner added,” It’s really a humbling experience. We don’t let it get to our heads. We can’t do it without our teammates.”
Raphael is pleased to have them and is impressed with their humility.
“They are both humble and great individuals. They have accepted their roles though it will be tough. I think that they are ready. I think that Gardner is one of best in the nation at her position for her size,” remarked Raphael.
More height and depth
B-CU has added height with 6’ 2” Phylecia Armstrong and 6’ 1” Delicia Pierre and depth with Destiny Hudson and Monica Lowe.
“They all will come in and help us. Pierre is from Trinidad and she’s a great athlete. Destiny Hudson is only 5’ 9” but can jump out the gym. We are excited to have them,” expressed Isaac.
The Wildcats still have perennial powerhouse Florida A&M, defending champing Maryland Eastern-Shore, Hampton, South Carolina State and others in their way in the MEAC.
“The biggest thing that we lacked last year was blocking ability. I think that we added that. We also needed confidence. I don’t know if we have ever beat FAMU. I think we are starting to believe that we can. I recruited to fix our issues against these teams. We are athletic but not as experienced.
We have plenty of athletes that need more training in the game,” said Isaac.
Last year: 13-19 overall and 6-4 in the MEAC. Made it to the MEAC Tournament semifinal.
Gone: Middle Blocker, Linda Nwabuko (163 kills, 76 total blocks), Setter Frances Rodriguez (595 assists, 5.46 assists per game, 161 digs).
Returning: Outside hitter Krysta Gardner (479 kills, 4.13 kills per game, 60 service aces, 290 digs, 34 total blocks); outside hitter Janeen Davis (450 kills, 3.88 kills per game, 286 digs, 20 total blocks); libero, Jennifer Jimenez (395 digs, 30 service aces, 46 assists); setter, Aubrianna Curtis (324 assists, 131 digs, 31 total blocks).
Newcomers: Middle blockers Delicia Pierre and Phylecia Armstrong; outside hitters Destiny Hudson and Libero Monica Lowe.
Strengths: Outside hitters.
MEAC prediction: Third in MEAC Southern Division. Gardner was named to the All MEAC pre-season team.
Outlook: B-CU hasn’t had a winning season since 2004. The Wildcats have an athletic and talented squad. They have added some much needed height and depth, which will make them a much-improved team. The question is whether this is the year they can compete with the likes of powerhouse Florida A&M to win their division. They believe they are closing the gap.
The MEAC won’t take them lightly this year. It may be tough with a road heavy schedule. B-CU has only six home games but all are conference games. The coaching staff believes that this team is as talented as ever. Expectations are high and excitement is in the air. How quick these ladies gel and the youngsters gain experience and confidence may be the key. Nonetheless, good things are expected out of the Wildcats.
Of note: Gardner has 821 career kills and is third on the school’s all-time career list. She is on pace to past the all-time career mark of 1,060 held by Melissa Sanders.