Sac State volleyball returns four starters from 15-1 team a season ago

New players expected to fill big shoes


Thomas Frey - The State Hornet

Sacramento State returns (from left to right) Brie Gathright, Mikaela Nocetti Nocetti, Sarah Davis and Lana Brown from a its Big Sky regular season championship team a season ago. The Hornets begin the season August 24 against Utah State.

Thomas Frey, Sports editor

Losing to North Dakota in the Big Sky Conference Tournament championship game in five sets was not how the Sacramento State volleyball team wanted to end the 2017 volleyball season.

The heartbreak from the North Dakota game stayed with them into the postseason when they scored a season low — just 10 points in one match. But now, with three starters gone, the team has put the past in the rearview mirror and season veterans are preparing to get three new starters at crucial positions ready for the opener Aug. 24 against Utah State.

Sac State returns senior middle blockers Brie Gathright and Lana Brown and outside hitters Mikaela Nocetti (senior) and Sarah Davis (junior). Gathright and Brown made it difficult for opposing hitters to get the ball over the net.

“It’s good to have two middles because there is a consistency with it, so having me and Brie, we kind of know how to feed off each other,” said Brown, who had the 11th most blocks in the country last season. “I like both of us coming back because I feel like we can be even stronger than last year and be a strong presence in the middle.”

Thomas Frey – The State Hornet
Sarah Davis (8) and Lana Brown (7) go up for a block against Idaho State Sept. 23.

Having two middles returning will make it an easier transition for whoever is the starting libero — a defensive position.

“The libero plays a huge role,” said 2017 Big Sky Conference coach of the year Ruben Volta. “We expect them to be able to take a lot of the court defensively. We’ve got three players battling for that spot, the competition is good.”

The three players are senior Skylar Takeda, sophomore Paige Swinney and freshman Paige Calvin. Last season, Takeda played in 109 of the 146 total sets and finished the season with 199 digs.

While replacing the libero is difficult, replacing a player like Kennedy Kurtz could be difficult because she led the nation in assists last season. Kurtz was named the Most Valuable Player of the Big Sky Conference last season and didn’t miss a single play.

Two players are competing for the starting setter position, and Volta said he could see himself using both of them in the offense at the same time.

True freshman McKenna Smith is coming off a high school season in which her team went to the quarter-finals of the Arizona State volleyball tournament. In three years of high school, Smith recorded 1,152 career assists. Competing with her for the starting job is redshirt freshman Ashtin Olin who practiced everyday last year with the team and learned from Kurtz.

“Kennedy had such a good presence as a setter that I think that she helped Ashtin guide her way into the position she is in now, because Kennedy was really bold with her words and I think Ashtin is learning to kind of command herself and be present and just be a good leader out there on the court,” Brown said. “As a setter you need to be a leader even if you’re not a captain. She is doing good.”

While the setter and libero positions will be new, the middle blockers and hitters all have earned their stripes on the court. Nocetti had the 25th most kills in the nation and the fifth most attacks.

Against North Dakota on Oct. 5, Nocetti had 21 kills and 18 digs in the five-set victory including the game winner.

Joining her on the outside is Sarah Davis who had 256 kills last season including 16 in the Big Sky Conference Tournament semi-finals to send the Hornets to the tournament finals.

The team has to replace Shannon Boyle who had more than 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs in her career including a kill to win the match on her senior day.

Looking to fill the shoes of Boyle are sophomores Macey Hayden and Cianna Andrews, each of whom saw time in important games like the Big Sky Conference Tournament finals.  

“I think both of them, especially Cianna improved a lot playing beach,” Nocetti said. “It really helped her a lot, the digging, moving your feet picked up a lot of those skills, she definitely improved a lot playing beach. We are such a young team, but we have strong leaders like me Lana, Sarah Davis and Brie. I think it’s gonna be good.”