NASHVILLE --- The off-season is coming to a close for the Tenneessee State volleyball program, and the team is back on campus for preseason camp. Head coach Donika Sutton checks in with the Tiger family to give the scoop on TSU volleyball.
Q: You’ve got a lot of new talent coming in this year, talk about the recruiting process and what you see from the newcomers?
A: Yeah. Our recruiting process this past spring was pretty long. We actually recruited pretty heavily in the fall. I think we have a lot of great talent that we collectively put together. We have players from all over – different walks of life, different experiences, juniors, as well as, incoming freshmen and we have a transfer sophomore. But, everyone coming in has great experience in their area. I believe they’ll be able to execute, and more than anything, they’re definitely going to help us in our hunt for an OVC Championship.
Q: You’ve had a few girls here for most of the summer, and the newcomers have been here a few weeks working out. What is the importance of being on campus during the summer?
A: I think more than anything, just like anywhere else, it’s just the chemistry. Getting acclimated. Being in the gym with Coach Tersoo is pretty special. It’s very important. He’s definitely going to give you that push, and that’s what we’re looking for. We want them in shape. We want them ready to go, and I think this summer has definitely prepared them for preseason camp.
Q: As a coaching staff, what has been on the agenda for the summer?
A: Well this summer, we’ve definitely been out recruiting pretty hard. We’re looking forward to our 2019-’20 year. In house, our agenda has been making sure that the players that we have on campus are getting everything they need with their training. We’re prepared for preseason.
How did the summer camp series go?
A: Camp is always really, really good for us. I think it’s a great time for us to give back to the community. That’s our moment to be able to connect with the community, and to have our girls involved, they really enjoyed it. The girls loved them, and the team loved them back.
Q: Who do you see stepping up as leaders?
A: Leadership this year is something that is highly expected. We have a lone senior in Rachel Henderson, and we’re always pushing her to always put her best foot forward, and I think that now, more than anything, she’s up for the challenge. We also have two rising juniors in Julia Pierson and Kylie Hayes. Both of them have shown a huge interest in being a huge voice this season as well. We have some experienced juniors transferring in from high programs, and I know for sure [leadership] is the reason why we were interested in them. Leadership is going be the key recipe for our success. It’s not about who is going to lead; it’s about how we’re all going to lead each other.
Q: Last year, the team transitioned to a 5-1 offense for the last half of the season, are you planning to continue or move back to 6-2?
A: I go with what we have – what we have and what’s going to work for us. Who knows? One team we play, we may need to run a 5-1. Of course, that’s ideal for any coach – to have that one setter that can run that offense, and be as dynamic defensively as she is front row. We may have to run a 6-2. If we have to, that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that, because I feel like we have, not only the defensive backcourt to help us, but we have amazing blockers that will take care of any offense from the other side.
Q: The team’s motto this year is WE>ME. Talk about what culture you’re looking to build with the team, and where the inspiration for the phrase came from.
A: We base our culture off of being hard-working, having discipline and definitely having heart. The most important thing is putting ourselves aside and working hard for each other. Once we can understand the importance of ‘we over me,’ I think we’re definitely on the right track. We have the talent, the capability and the training. We just need to understand how to put the pieces together and how to go out there and play hard for each other.
Q: Let’s take a look at the league as a whole. What do you see for the OVC and where does TSU fit in to it?
A: I think this upcoming season is going to be competitive. I think it’s going to be extremely exciting to watch. We have a lot of new coaches, but we have a lot of great programs. Just because we have new coaches, doesn’t mean that those programs are not going to be successful this year. I’m expecting a lot of great volleyball, very fast pace, great defensive teams, just teams that are hungry. Those that are hungry coming out of the gate, and we know we’re going to have to put our best foot forward to be on the hunt with those teams.
Q: You’re headed to FIU, Chattanooga and Stephen F. Austin this preseason. Talk about your expectations for preseason.
A: We definitely have a competitive preseason schedule. I’m really excited about that. I don’t think scheduling could’ve been any better. We are going to FIU. I think that’s going to be a great opening tournament for us with FIU, Stetson and FAMU. It will be a great experience for our players, a variety of team and competitive play. I think we have a great shot in that tournament of really figuring out who we are, and if we’re going to get after it or not. Then we’ll come back and we’ll go to UT Chattanooga, which is also another great tournament. That tournament is in-state, we have a lot of great teams in Northern Alabama, Asheville, UT Chattanooga… good, competitive teams. That’s going to be a really tough tournament, but by then we should have our footing, our chemistry, our connections and we should be in a good flow. And then, we’re going to Stephen F. Austin. We have a couple of kids on our team from Texas, and I think this is a really good tournament to get them back as close to home as possible, so we’ll have a really competitive edge. I think we’re up for the challenge. I’m ready to get started.