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Georgia State Volleyball prepared for a turnaround season

Carley Eiken (7), Jha’Meishei (12), and Sydney Stroud (16), shown celebrating with their teammates, are among the Panthers returning for the 2018 season. Photo Submitted by Georgia State Athletics

Georgia State volleyball has bounced back to the court.

This year’s team brings experience that last season’s roster lacked. A year ago, there were no seniors and five freshmen on the roster. The team now has five seniors, three juniors, five sophomores and three freshmen, making it a much smoother transition.

With 13 of 16 players returning, most of the team is already familiar with the system and the competition. Practice started on Wednesday, Aug. 8, and the team was able to hit the ground running.

In a statement to Georgia State Athletics, head coach Sally Polhamus said that the team is “in a very different place” than it was this time last year, and some of the players agree, too.

“It’s honestly a huge difference, our team chemistry is so much better this year,” sophomore middle hitter Meisheia Griffin said.

Griffin is coming off a great freshman season with 25 starts and 28 games played. She put up a team-best attacking percentage of .210. She finished the season with 176 kills and led the team with 76 blocks.

Three players who finished last season with over 200 kills are returning: senior Crystal Lee and juniors Sydney Stroud and Morgan Hash.

Lee, last year’s leader in kills, said that one of her goals as a team captain is bringing the team closer as a unit.

“I’ve been [working] on being a better leader for every person on the team, because everyone’s different, so just doing team bonding exercises and really getting to know who you’re playing with makes us a better team,” Lee, the Panthers’ active leader in kills, digs and service aces, said.

Senior setter Sarah Renner also mentioned the benefits of team bonding and spending time together.

“We try to get together outside of the court at least once a week and make sure that we spend time and get to know each other,” Renner said.

Renner led the team in assists last season with 549. She had 19 matches with double-digit assists, including 13 with over 20, six with over 30 and five with over 40.

The other three seniors on the team are Shae Chapman, Anna Rantala and Carley Aiken.

Chapman, the middle blocker and right side hitter from Houston, started her Georgia State career with 107 kills in her freshman season. Unfortunately, injuries through her sophomore and junior seasons forced her to miss several matches. When she is on the court, her presence is certainly felt, and she still leads all current Panthers with 104 career blocks.

Rantala came to Georgia State in 2015 from Jyvaskyla, Finland. The outside hitter played in 23 matches her freshman season and accumulated 50 digs and 54 kills. She improved to 241 digs and 125 kills in her sophomore season where she saw action in all 28 matches and started in 21. She also led the 2017 team in service aces with 36.

Aiken is a redshirt senior who transferred from Armstrong State prior to the 2017 season after the university merged with Georgia Southern and disbanded its athletic program. She is originally from Dacula, Georgia about 40 miles northeast of campus. The setter played in 27 matches in her first season as a Panther, starting in 13. She finished 2nd on the team in assists with 439, 5th in service aces with 17 and 6th in digs with 128.

SCHEDULE

The Panthers have 12 home matches this year in the GSU Sports Arena, nine of which are Sun Belt Conference matchups. They host the GSU Invitational on Sept. 7 and 8 and the Sun Belt Conference Tournament in November.

The first match of the season is on Friday, Aug. 24 against Mississippi Valley State in Starkville, Mississippi for the Starkvegas Classic. Then, they play two matches on Saturday against California Baptist and Mississippi State.

A week later, the team will travel to Chicago for matches on Friday, Aug. 31 and Saturday, Sept. 1. This tournament features three matches against Marshall and Loyola-Chicago on the Panthers’ first day and Furman on the next.

Their home debut is a non-conference game against Sam Houston State for the annual GSU Invitational on Sept. 7. Sun Belt competition begins on Sept. 21 against the 2017 Sun Belt champion, Coastal Carolina.

Two weeks later, the Panthers return to the GSU Sports Arena to host four straight home matches. The team travels to Louisiana to play ULM and Louisiana-Lafayette in mid-October.

The Panthers ended last season with a pair of wins against Georgia Southern, a feat many on the team consider a highlight of the season. This season also ends with a pair of games against the inner-state rival.

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