Fort Myers, Fla. - When the defending A-Sun Volleyball Champions began practice for the 2014 season they had a new head coach and wondered how they would be able to duplicate last season's championship run.
Despite being voted No. 2 in the preseason poll by the coaches, the Dolphins squad needed to find itself and learn how to become a new team in 2014. Head Coach Julie Darty, who began her first season as head coach, said that "early on in the season we needed to learn how to play together and we focused on teaching the game to our kids every day."
Jacksonville struggled early on to find consistency as they started the season 2-4 and on defense Darty was looking to find a libero that could play the way she was looking for. A five-game winning streak in September was followed by a four-game losing streak in October as the Dolphins found themselves with a 1-4 record in conference play.
One of the mainstays from last season's success, Sammie Strausbaugh, was one of the players Darty could count on every night the Dolphins stepped on the court. Strausbaugh had 19 straight matches with 10 or more kills, and she also was a defensive standout leading the team in digs. She was voted A-Sun Player of the Year in the regular season and picked up Tournament MVP honors as well.
Through games played by November 19th, Strausbaugh was one of only a handful of players in the nation with 500 kills and 300 digs. With her defensive performance in the Championship, she now has over 400 digs to along with 550 total kills. Alongside her other players stepped up as the conference season progressed.
Emily Laskelle, an academic all-conference selection, and Kelly Koop, a transfer from North Florida, showed tremendous improvement over the course of the season to help out Strausbaugh. Darty also highlighted another player saying, "Jizzy Gesualdo became more consistent as the season went on, and she really figured out how to run the offense and stepped up in the second half of the season."
Coach Darty noted that the win against Northern Kentucky on November 7th really gave the team confidence and began a run of six wins in seven matches, leading to the team's second A-Sun Championship in a row. Sophomore libero Rachel Miller played with more confidence and consistency giving the Dolphins great play along the back row defensively.
After the final, Darty reflected on how far the team had come since September, "From our first match at Bethune I never thought we would be here. But we played our best volleyball in November and always trusted the process hitting our peak at the right moment."
That process has led the Dolphins back to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in program history. They will watch the selection show on November 30 at 8:30 p.m. on campus and look to continue this ride they are on.