By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech volleyball team will kick off the 2021 campaign with its first non-conference action since the 2019 season, making a trip to Auburn, Ala. for the War Eagle Invitational slated for Friday, Aug. 27 and Saturday, Aug. 28.
After a 2020-21 slate that saw the Golden Eagles play just 16 Ohio Valley Conference matches in the spring due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Golden Eagles will get their first taste of a non-league opponent with a match-up against host Auburn. The match is slated for a 7:00 p.m. CT start on Friday with the action set to be streamed on SEC Network+.
Due to positive COVID tests and subsequent contact tracing within The Citadel program, the Bulldogs will no longer participate at the War Eagle Invitational. That match with the Golden Eagles, originally slated for 10:30 a.m. on Friday, has been cancelled.
Tech will then square off with Jackson State on Saturday, with match time slated for 11:30 a.m. CT.
The Golden Eagles were selected to finish fifth in the league in the 2021 OVC Predicted Teams Order of finish, as voted on by the conference's head coaches and sports information directors. The selection aligns with Tech's finish in the final standings of last season, a fifth-place showing at 9-7 that in most years would have resulted in an OVC Tournament berth. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the postseason event was reduced to a field of four, with the purple and gold the first team out in the adjusted format.
Tech ended the year on a five-match winning streak, highlighted by back-to-back wins at Murray State during the final stretch. The victories resulted in numerous milestones against its longtime rival, including the team's first back-to-back victories against the Racers since 2008 and 2009 and the first back-to-back road victories at Murray State since 1997 and 1998. The Golden Eagles also capped off the year by securing back-to-back winnings seasons in OVC play for the first time since 2007 and 2008.
For the second straight year, returning junior middle blocker Taylor Dorsey was honored as a member of the Preseason All-OVC Team, fresh off claiming her first career All-OVC First Team honor in the spring during the league's abbreviated 2020-21 season. The accolades have started to pile up for the Birmingham, Ala. native, who was also an All-OVC Second Team member in 2019.
Returning to anchor the Golden Eagles is junior and Preseason All-OVC selection Taylor Dorsey, who paced the team in hitting percentage and total blocks while ranking in the top-three on the team in kills and points. Proving to be arguably the most lethal middle in the league, she led the conference with 70.0 total blocks and ranked second in blocks per set with a mark of 1.17 while earning All-OVC First Team honors.
She also registered 141 kills and 181.5 points on the year, extending her value far beyond just the defensive side of the net. Her .306 hitting percentage ranked seventh in the league.
Joining Dorsey on the front lines for Tech and looking to make a return trip to the OVC Tournament is returning sophomore middle blocker Skylar Boom. The Louisville, Ky. native enjoyed a breakout campaign last year, leading the league in solo blocks (17) while ranking second on the Golden Eagles in kills (144), attack percentage (.229), block assists (43), total blocks (60), and points (182.5).
Back for her final go-around in the purple and gold is veteran setter Ashley Hand, who registered 591 assists and averaged 9.69 per set last season. She added 35 kills, 18 service aces, 127 digs, and 33 total blocks for good measure. Outside hitter Madeline Furtado, another breakthrough candidate from the 2020-21 campaign, enters the new season after posting 133 kills, 106 digs, and 15 total blocks in her first full year of action in the Tech colors.
(2020-21 record: 0-8, 0-8 SEC | Series Record: 0-2 | H: 0-0 | A: 0-1 | N: 0-1)
Last season, Auburn played an abbreviated, eight-match slate in Southeastern Conference play in the fall, finishing 0-8. Scheduled to take part in more SEC play in the spring, the Tigers chose not to compete due to a combination of opt-outs and injuries to their roster.
Auburn's leader in kills in 2020-21, Tatum Shipes, returns to the hardwood for her senior campaign after tallying 59 and 2.36 per match a season ago. The outside hitter added 16 total blocks and four service aces to the mix for a team-high 71.5 points.
Fellow senior Bella Rosenthall also returns after pacing the Tigers in digs last season, averaging 2.80 per set and totaling 70 overall. Sophomore setter Jackie Barrett, the team's leader in assists, looks to improve on her 144 total helpers and 7.58 assists per set mark in 2020-21.
Tech fell to the Tigers, 3-0, in its most recent match-up in 2015. Auburn holds a 2-0 advantage all-time against the Golden Eagles.
SCOUTING JACKSON STATE
(2020-21 record: 11-1, 9-0 SWAC | Series Record: 0-0 | H: 0-0 | A: 0-0 | N: 0-0)
Last season, Jackson State went undefeated in Southwestern Athletic Conference action, finishing 9-0 in the league and sweeping the SWAC Tournament as well on its way to a pair of titles. The Tigers eventually fell to Western Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for their only loss on the year.
JSU landed five players on the All-SWAC Preseason Team, including Alexis Williams, Jylen Whitten, Marina Bianchi Brito, Damassy Thompson, and Jordan Jones.
Williams is coming off a standout freshman season in which she earned SWAC Freshman of the Year honors. She finished with a conference hitting percentage of .231 and landed 120 kills, putting her seventh and second in the SWAC, respectively.
Whitten finished her sophomore season of conference play third overall in the SWAC in kills with 120, and tenth overall in hitting percentage (.199). Bianchi Brito returns to Jackson State after leading the SWAC in hitting percentage with 48 kills on 103 attempts in SWAC competition (.398).
In 32 sets, Thompson averaged 5.03 assists per set, and compiled a total of 161 total assists as a sophomore in SWAC competition. Thompson led the reigning SWAC champions with four double-doubles in 2020. Jones finished the 2020 season third overall in hitting percentage in the SWAC with an average of .351, and was named to the All-SWAC Second Team.
This marks the first-ever meeting between Tennessee Tech and Jackson State.
The purple and gold will return to Cookeville for their home tournament, the Golden Eagle Invitational, from Sept. 3-4 in the Hooper Eblen Center. Tech plays host to South Alabama on Friday, at 10:30 a.m. CT and then Valparaiso at 7:30 p.m. that evening. The tournament wraps up with a 2:00 p.m. tilt between the Golden Eagles and UNC Asheville.
Photo by Thomas Corhern