It wasn’t as emotional as, say, Senior Night in November will be, but the respect between fourth-year Northwestern State volleyball coach Sean Kiracofe and his senior class was evident Wednesday.
Speaking at NSU’s annual Fall Sports Media Day on Wednesday, Kiracofe and seniors Channing Burleson, Madeline Drake and Reagan Rogers discussed the raised expectations that welcomed the Lady Demons to campus earlier this week.
“This time last year, we were really talking about this being a two-year process,” said Kiracofe, whose team finished 15-17 overall and 10-6 in Southland Conference play, its most wins overall and in conference play since 2014.
“We knew we would be returning all of our starters. Even though it was a two-year process, we had some goals we wanted to accomplish. We got pretty much everything except one. I talked about it at the beginning of practice today. We lost in the first round of the (conference tournament), and we really wanted to get to that second or third day to get us ready for this season.”
Northwestern State’s 2018 season begins in 16 days at the Red Raider Classic in Lubbock, Texas, and is highlighted by hosting the Southland Conference Tournament in Prather Coliseum from Nov. 16-18.
Burleson, Drake and Rogers were three of four recruits Kiracofe inherited when he was named the program’s head coach in April 2015.
The trio, along with setter Kathryn Wristen, had signed with co-head coaches Hugh and Stephanie Hernesman. Four years later, they enter as the nucleus of a team that expects to repeat 2014’s SLC Tournament championship run in Prather Coliseum.
“They’ve made It very easy on me,” Kiracofe said of the seniors. “They could have come in and said this is not what we signed up for, but from day one, I never got that feeling. They immediately bought in, and if that’s not true, they did a great job of selling it. They were ready to learn, ready to figure out how we were going to play for the next few years.”
All four seniors took individual strides in their junior campaigns as the Lady Demons put together a double-figure win total in conference play for just the fourth time in school history.
Burleson picked up Southland Conference Libero of the Year honors and has posted the third- and fourth-most single-season digs in program history in her two years as a libero. Burleson moved to the defensive-minded position after spending her freshman year as an outside hitter.
“I’ve always liked defense, so it was easy for me,” Burleson said. “My teammates and coach made it as easy as it could have been. I have to give credit to them.”
Along with Burleson, Rogers earned first-team All-Southland honors and added a first-team All-Louisiana selection after enjoying a breakout junior season in which she pounded down 427 kills, the second-highest total in school history.
Rogers’ emergence helped push the Lady Demons higher than expected in the conference standings and led to raised expectations around the program.
“We have a lot of pressure, not on ourselves, but as a team we want this so bad,” she said. “The freshmen have bought in and want It as bad for the seniors as they do for themselves. We’re hoping to stick together and come out with a championship.”
Drake made her mark defensively, collecting 101 block assists, the third-best total in school single-season history.
Drake should finish her career in the top four in block assists with a chance to move up as high as No. 2 by the conclusion of her senior season. However, the Tulsa, Oklahoma, product has a bigger goal in mind, one that involves her 17 teammates.
“The most rewarding part will be this year when all of our hard work will pay off,” she said. “Each year, we’ve seen improvement individually and in our ability to compete as a team. Each year has been better, and I think this year will be the best year yet.”