Sports was discontinuedafter 1981 season
By Joseph Myers
Special To The Ledger-Enquirer
Columbus State opens its first volleyball season since 1981 tonight at 7 against Johnson C. Smith at the Lumpkin Center and coach Casey Cornett is eager to get started.
"At first, practice was a little rough," said Cornett, who spent the last three seasons as an assistant coach at UNC-Charlotte. "We had 16 brand new players who'd never played together and I was teaching them new techniques, so there was a lot of adjusting to do. It didn't come easy, but the girls have really started to play well together. They're all very athletic, but the biggest challenge is getting them to play together as a team."
Cornett's initial roster will feature 16 players, which is a high number for most collegiate volleyball programs, but she said she's
had no problem keeping all her players busy in practice and has no immediate plans to redshirt anyone.
"When I was recruiting all of them, I told them it wasn't going to be easy and that they'd have to come in and earn a starting position," Cornett said. "Everybody's always working and all 16 of them are tired after practice. When we scrimmage, nobody can tell which team is the 'A' side and which is the 'B' side. Right now, I feel like if I decided to redshirt somebody, I could lose an impact player or some depth that we could use on down the line."
The Lady Cougars' offense will run through their setter, which right now looks to be junior Kierston Smith. The 6-foot-1 Smith is a junior college transfer from Florida who Cornett said "can do it all" and backing her up is Serbian freshman Ivana Kazic, who Cornett said could see
some playing time as well.
Columbus State is well-stocked at the libero/defensive specialist position, with five listed on the Lady Cougars' roster. Leading that group is junior Megan Scharnett, another junior college transfer from Parkland College in Illinois.
"She comes from a strong junior college program," said Cornett of the 5-foot-8 Scharnett. "She's got good experience and a good attitude."
Also among the Lady Cougars' defensive specialist/liberos are a pair of local freshmen in Taylor Ray (Columbus High) and Caytlin Merritt (Calvary Christian).
The Lady Cougars have three freshman middle blockers who are all battling for playing time. Megan Frame, a 6-footer from Ohio, Kaitlin Tatum -- a 6-foot-2 standout from Flowery Branch, Ga. -- and Kylie Beaubien, a 5-foot-11 freshman from Alabama, all could wind up starting or playing a lot this season.
"We're going to be playing two out of the three on a regular basis," said Cornett. "It seems like there's a different player emerging as the best every day."
Columbus State has five outside hitters listed on its roster, so Cornett has a bevy of options to choose from there. Leading the group thus far is junior college transfer Katie Poole, who came to CSU from Paris Junior College in Texas.
"(Poole) is a little undersized (at 5-foot-8), but she can jump out of the gym," said Cornett. "She's smart, fast and the team voted her a captain."
Poole will be joined on the outside by Lithuanian freshman Erika Gelzinyte, who Cornett called "a strong, dominant hitter. When she gets a hold of it, look out below."
Mary McCarty -- a 6-foot-2 freshman who played at Calvary Christian -- is also among those looking to earn some playing time on the outside.
In the Peach Belt Conference's preseason coaches poll, the Lady Cougars were picked eighth out of 10 teams. That would be good enough to earn CSU a place in the conference's postseason tournament, but Cornett said she and her team have higher goals in their initial season.
"Everybody keeps telling us that because we're a first-year program, we're going to finish in the bottom half of the conference," said Cornett. "That bothered me because that's not one of our goals. We want to set the bar high. We're going to work hard and I feel like we're going to shock some people. Our goal isn't to be in the bottom half. Our goal is to be in the top 3 and if we can go on and win the conference tournament, then why not?"