Volleyball: ‘Dogs head up north

The Fresno State volleyball team performs a drill during a practice at the Save Mart Center. The Bulldogs will head to Sacramento today to participate in the Sacramento State Invitational. Photo by Darlene Wendels/The Collegian

The Fresno State volleyball team is back at work this week coming off a 1-2 record to start the season. The Bulldogs are focused on shoring up their defense and finding a better rhythm on offense after breaking several new players into the rotation.

Fresno State opened its season by winning one of three games at the Adidas Rice Invitational, last weekend. The Bulldogs fell 3-1 to Louisiana-Lafayette in their first game of the season on Friday and split their two games on Saturday – defeating UC Davis 3-2 and falling to Rice 3-0.

“It was expectedly inconsistent,” head coach Lauren Netherby-Sewell said, “[and] really good at times. You see the promise. You see the future of what this team can be. But [we had] inexperience, and we had a lot of people coming off injuries — some people who didn’t play all of fall camp, practically. So, our endurance wasn’t good. We’ve got a long way to go, but when we’ve played well, we’ve played really well.

“We just need to get healthy and get some experience under our belt.”

There were a lot of unknowns for the Bulldogs heading into the season-opening tournament, losing five seniors who helped lead the ‘Dogs to a 17-15 record a year ago. Netherby-Sewell saw multiple players shine in bigger roles in their first games. Freshmen Carly Scarbrough and Haylee Roberts impressed in their first opportunity for collegiate play, but the biggest bright spot of the weekend was the play of Zana Bowens. The junior outside hitter led the team in kills and earned a spot on the all-tournament team.

“It was kind of fun to see somebody like Bowens kind of step up and have the chance to really shine,” Netherby-Sewell said. “She played well in every match, kind of did it all for us.”

Bowens started in 13 of the team’s 31 games last season. Now, she is emerging as an early leader for the new-look team, totaling 35 kills and 33 digs in the first three games.

Since its 1-2 start, the team has set its focus to this weekend’s tournament, the Sacramento State Invitational. The Bulldogs are keyed in on improving their defense – they had just 16 blocks in their three games compared with 27 by their opponents.

“As a team, I think we learned a lot about ourselves. It’s better to get these lessons early in the season. That way during the middle and end of the season, we don’t falter, and we’ll succeed,” Bowens said. “We need to work a little bit better defensively and just creating a rhythm offensively and being able to get a lot of our hitters going hot … that’s been our focus this week in practice.”

Fresno State will be one of four teams playing in the Sacramento State Invitational this weekend. The Bulldogs are slated to play Sacramento State (2-2) tonight at 7 p.m. and will play both UC Santa Barbara (0-3) and Loyola Marymount (3-0) on Saturday.

The Bulldogs will play in two more weekend tournaments before their first game at the Save Mart Center. The first chance to see the volleyball team at home will be on Sept. 23 in an exhibition matchup versus Fresno Pacific.

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