With the annual black/white scrimmage taking place at Baxter Arena last Thursday night, it’s just another sign that the NCAA volleyball season is right around the corner. For Omaha head coach Matt Buttermore, there are reasons for optimism around his squad.
“This is probably one of the deepest and closest groups I’ve coached in my three years here,” Buttermore said. “We have a lot of players on our team capable of coming in and doing a great job for us, whether they start or not, so we have a lot of faith in everyone in our gym.”
Not only do the Mavericks return a wealth of experience from last spring, but several key pieces of that roster will return this fall, much in thanks to the extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19. Claire Mountjoy, Sadie Limback and Sami Clarkson highlight that list, all three having received All-Summit League honors last season.
Four of the Mavericks’ top five hitters and 11 total members of last spring’s roster will be back.
“Honestly, from a day-to-day perspective, it’s nice to just have that familiarity and competition in the gym,” Buttermore said of the team’s depth. “It makes practice so much more fun and I think this team has done a great job over the summer of building relationships, so hopefully that carries into the season.”
A senior and a fifth-year senior respectively, Limback and Mountjoy alone have combined to play 185 career matches in an Omaha uniform.
Limback, who was named the Omaha Female Athlete of the Year last spring, led the Summit League with a .404 hitting percentage and averaged 4.08 kills per set.
“Sadie had a historical year for us last year hitting .400 with four kills a set,” Buttermore said. “That’s like hitting over .400 and having 60 home runs in baseball or something- it’s pretty ridiculous. So that’s big to have her back and we know everything she brings to our gym.”
As for Mountjoy, the Omaha native will become a five-year starter when she steps on the floor in the Mavericks’ season-opener on Aug. 27 at Iowa State. She is second in program history with 1,815 career digs, only 120 behind Angie Reicks. Mountjoy had 358 digs last season alone.
“Claire is such a leader by example and works extremely hard,” Buttermore said. “Her play speaks for itself, but she’s very tenacious and we’re super excited to have her leadership back too.”
Omaha finished the spring with a 13-6 record and reached the Summit League Tournament for a fourth consecutive season. On top of those returning 11, Buttermore’s group will also add two transfers to the fold- Jaiden Centeno (Iowa State) and Marriah Buss (Wichita State). Buss is a former Nebraska Gatorade High School Player of the Year winner.
“Both of them are very intense and have really helped add to our culture here,” said the third-year head coach. “They bring a great deal of focus and energy, as well as talent, so they’re pushing everybody else and everybody has been pushing them too. We’re very happy to have them in our program.”
That culture has been a big point of emphasis this fall. In the practices leading up to this weekend’s season-opener, Buttermore said the energy has been great and the attention to detail has been showing. Those will both be pivotal with the schedule that lies ahead of them.
Saturday’s match at Iowa State is the start of a difficult nonconference schedule that features a Sep. 3 showdown at No. 5 Nebraska along with matches against Creighton, Kansas State, Illinois and several others.
The Mavericks will open the home portion of their schedule on Sep. 16-18 with the MH Hospitality Omaha Challenge at Baxter Arena. They’ll jump into Summit League action the following week as St. Thomas comes to town on Sep. 23. It’s the first of 18 matches in conference play.
“Every year our goal is to win a conference championship and I feel like we definitely have the ball control to do that this year,” Buttermore said. “There’s a lot of talent with this group and I’m excited to see what they can do.”