UNO head volleyball coach Rose Shires is confident that her 2016 team features enough talent to make it to their first NCAA D1 tournament.
UNO volleyball finished the 2015 season 19-13; its best finish in its four years in the conference, taking third in the Summit League, and second in the conference tournament.
While 50 percent of the team is incoming freshmen, a big hole challenge is replacing middle-hitter Megan Schmale, who recently signed a contract to play professionally in the Superliga Femenina de Voleibol for the 2016-17 season.
Shires is confident that incoming freshmen Daria Taylor, Ellie Brown, and redshirt junior Amanda Conlin are all good prospects in playing that role.
All-conference setter Sydney O’Shaughnessy returns to the 2016 lineup and is excited to start working with the freshmen once they arrive on campus. The 5’8 Omaha native posted 1,271 assists her sophomore year, ranking 34th nationally.
“All of the girls coming in have what it takes,” O’Shaughnessy said. “It’s just about getting over the hump and getting into the right mentality.”
Marian High School product, O’Shaunessy, was one of 231 athletes from around the country to participate in the U.S. Women’s National Team Open Tryouts last Feb.
Shires, the winningest coach in program history and 2015 Summit League coach of the year, enters her 27th season holding a career record of 475-343. A great season could hand Shires her 500th career win.
The number of wins isn’t something Shires is focused on.
“It doesn’t matter if we reach 500 this year, next year, or 10 years from now,” said Shires. “What matters to me is the process of developing this program into a top Division-I program.”
The Mavericks have been building ever since joining Division-I five years ago. The thought of 2016 being the year to break through, win a conference title and make their first ever NCAA Division-I tournament is something they have been working hard for all summer.
The thought gave junior outside hitter Mackenzie Horkey chills.
“It can happen, we have a lot of good talent this year,” said Horkey. “We’re losing some players, but we’re actually really not because we have a lot of girls coming in who can contribute to the court right away.”
Shires plans to take it one match at a time and concentrate on the process of getting there.
“It’s going to happen,” says Shires. “It’s just the matter of when.”
Returning players have been in Omaha, practicing on their own four days a week since the beginning of June, with two-a-days starting up in early Aug.
“We only have a very short time to train them as coaches and to practice together as a team.” Shires said.
The Mavericks will start their journey on Aug. 26, facing North Dakota, University of California-Davis and Ole Miss in the North Dakota tournament in Grand Forks. UNO then welcomes Iowa State to the Baxter Arena for their home opener on Sept. 1.