With a new coaching staff in place and only two seniors, the Dolphins started the season with a 16 straight road matches. They took their lumps with a 4-12 start, but matured and won six of the final eight matches to earn their first A-Sun Tournament bid since 2009.
“I told them that is how you want to be playing at the end of the year,” JU head coach Michelle Collier said. “Because of our tough preseason, we didn’t see the numbers or results, but I think it prepared us and got us into position to do what we did at the end of the season. We played good teams well early, but still didn’t win. The team kept their heads up, kept working and kept trying to adjust to the things we were doing and implementing in our system. We overcame some hurdles in the end to accomplish something that they were not able to do in the past.”
Inside of the early road stretch, the young JU group had losses to College of Charleston and Liberty when they were up 2-0, while falling to such tough programs as N.C. State, UCF, Florida, Georgia Tech and Wisconsin. The Dolphins broke through for their first win of the season against Louisiana-Lafayette in five sets to end the Active Ankle Challenge.
JU beat Stetson to start A-Sun play and end the road streak, but could not build any momentum after losing seven of the next eight matches.
Things finally clicked for the Dolphins when they posted three straight wins against Stetson, Mercer and Kennesaw State from Oct. 23-27. Despite losses to Florida Gulf Coast and North Florida, the Dolphins bounced back with a 3-0 win at Bethune-Cookman (Nov. 7). JU ended the regular season beating USC Upstate and eventual tournament champion East Tennessee State in five sets each on consecutive nights to earn the No. 5 seed to the A-Sun Tournament.
“As a staff, we wanted to make sure that the team got better and the results showed,” Collier said. “There is still a long road ahead of us with the things we want to accomplish here. It was important for this young group to be like ‘hey, we can do this’ and be something that is the norm, making it to the conference tournament. It shouldn’t be something we are fighting for at the end of the season. But being in the position at the end of the season to fight for it and make it, was really cool because they did that the last two seasons but came up short. I felt the players deserved to be there.”
Newcomers Sammie Strausbaugh and Gabriela Roman were a big part of the Dolphins clog in 2012 as they each earned a spot on the A-Sun all-freshman team.
Strausbaugh led the Dolphins in kills (382) and service aces (37) en route to being named A-Sun Freshman of the Year, a program first. She also ranked second in digs (303) and fourth in blocks (44).
“Sammie was a big reason on why were successful towards the end of the season,” Collier said. “She had some really good matches for us. She is a very hard worker and a level-headed kid who is very humbled and works hard. She was asked to play a very important role in her freshman year and excelled at it. She was carrying a heavy load and most of the time she stepped up to the challenge.”
Strausbaugh recorded double-digits kills in 20 contests, including more than 20 four times. She finished the year with double-digits kills in nine of the final 12 matches. Strausbaugh had 11 aces between five-set wins against USC Upstate and East Tennessee State to help JU claim its tournament berth since 2009. She also picked up A-Sun Player of the Week honors twice in the final three weeks.
“We are super proud of everything she has done. We look forward to easing her off that responsibility as we get more people around here able to perform at higher levels. We are happy that we have her and the future with her here.”
Despite playing in only 89 matches, Roman ranked second on the team in kills with 202, whole also taking fourth in aces (17) and sixth in digs (125). She recorded 10 double-digit kill efforts and two double-doubles. Roman posted 20 kills and 10 digs against Louisiana-Lafayette in only her third collegiate match.
“Gabby was someone else who was every important for us,” Collier said. “It was a transition for her from club to college, but she has a lot of potential. We are very excited to get spend the spring with her and give her some more tips on maturing her game a little bit more. Gabby is always in our office. Always asking to see video and asking us how she can do better and whatever I need to do. She has the work ethic we are looking for. She is going to be someone that is going to step up and next year to help Sammie. Hopefully, we will bring other recruits that will help them as well. We will continue to build on these two players that we have.”
With Strausbaugh and Roman are JU’s future, the Dolphins can still count on having back at least nine players next season, including juniors Kendall Country and Kylie Jacob.
Courtney led JU and ranked fifth in the A-Sun with 1,211 assists. She also ranked first on the team in digs (355) and second in aces (24). Courtney is third all-time at JU in assists with 3,493 and needs 477 more next season to pass Michelle Glover (3,969, 1991-94) for the top spot.
Jacob led the team in blocks (117) and was second in kills (219), while ranking 10th in the A-Sun in hitting percentage (.269).
“I think the future here is super bright,” Collier said. “We have a very passionate staff who believes that we can do some very special things here at JU. Not just the volleyball staff, but the staff of the University.
“We are working hard in the office to do our part which is to recruit student-athletes who are going to help continue to grow this program and make it nationally recognized. That is our angle here to make sure our kids are having the right experience and leaving her strong confident women. Those are our goals for the future and that is what we are working for. It’s a long road that is not going to happen overnight and we know that, but we have a unique opportunity here and we are very grateful for it.”
The Dolphins will work compete the next two months indoors before starting their second sand volleyball campaign in March.