It makes sense that three of the Lipscomb volleyball team’s key players are from the “Show Me State.” After all, thus far this season, particularly in conference play, the Lady Bisons have been something to see.
Missouri natives Alex Kelly, Stefine Pease and Meghan Hinemeyer played club volleyball together for three years before they embarked on their respective college careers.
Kelly and Pease came to Lipscomb as freshmen and have played in integral role in the program’s steady rise, which now is in its seventh season under coach Brandon Rosenthal. Hinemeyer transferred from Clemson in the spring and immediately added a devil-may-care attitude as well as a devilish ability to attack.
Led by that trio, the Lady Bisons carry a 12-match win streak into Tuesday’s Atlantic Sun Conference showdown with Belmont. In 10 of those 12 victories, including each of the first eight, they won without dropping a set.
The shutout streak ended Oct. 2 and 3 when they played road matches at East Tennessee State and Campbell in a span of less than 24 hours. They won 3-2 at East Tennessee State and 3-1 at Campbell and then regained their dominant ways with a non-conference sweep of Murray State and a 3-0 victory at home last Friday over USC Upstate.
The match between Lipscomb (15-3 overall, 10-0 in conference) and fourth-place Belmont (11-9, 7-3) marks the start of the second half of the Atlantic Sun season.
“Obviously, we’re off to a great start right now,” Kelly, who has won the last two A-Sun player of the week awards, said. “It puts a lot of pressure on the other teams because they know how well we’ve been playing but it also puts some pressure on us because we want to keep our (number) of 3-0 victories going.”
The shutout run included a 25-22, 25-21, 25-18 victory Sept. 19 at Florida Gulf Coast, site of this year’s conference tournament. They closed out that match when they won the first two points (and six of the first seven) of the third set and never allowed the host school to get even.
It was a particularly important victory because while Lipscomb was the preseason pick to win the conference championship Florida Gulf Coast was tabbed as the favorite to win the tournament and to secure an automatic bid into the NCAA field.
“People have been asking me how the girls are playing and what I keep saying is that they’re really focused,” Rosenthal said. “They know what’s at hand and everything that’s expected of them in each match. It’s awesome.”
'Trust built up'
Then there’s the fact that Pease, the setter, and Kelly the middle blocker and the 2008 A-Sun player of the year, and Hinemeyer, an outside hitter, know each other as well as they do.
Although they all went to different high schools, the three played together in the summers for Mid America, a club team based out of Kansas City. That familiarity has made them formidable when they were reunited this season.
Kelly and Hinemeyer are first and second, respectively, on the team in kills and attack percentage. Kelly, in fact, leads the A-Sun in kills and Hinemeyer is sixth. Pease’s average of nearly 12 assists per set is more than two more than any other player in the conference.
“We know each other so well,” Pease said. “We already have that trust built up. … We don’t have to worry about what each other is doing on the floor because we already know, and that allows us to take advantage of the strengths of our other three teammates as well.”
Rosenthal became Lipscomb’s coach in 2003 and every season since the team has won more matches than the previous one, up from eight in his inaugural campaign to a school-record 21 in 2008. Two years ago the Lady Bisons won the conference tournament and earned their first invitation into to the NCAA championship. They missed out on a return trip last fall when they were defeated in the A-Sun tournament title match.
The last victory, over USC Upstate, was his 100th with Lipscomb.
“It’s been a fun transition, and really a unique one too,” Rosenthal, who never has been a head coach anywhere else, said. “I’ve told people I had a pretty good idea of what I thought Lipscomb could accomplish with this program. But I don’t think anyone had an idea it could happen so quickly.
“We’ve surrounded ourselves with girls who want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”
Not to mention three of them who have been around each other for years.