Set It Off: VSU volleyball opens 2019 season in Tampa

File PhotoValdosta State’s Tammy Reyes-Perez (4) serves during a match against Auburn Montgomery on Oct. 23, 2018 at The Complex.

VALDOSTA –– The Valdosta State volleyball team will open its season this weekend with a crucial tournament at the University of Tampa. The Blazers face three ranked teams throughout the tournament, including No. 17-ranked Central Missouri in the opener tonight. VSU will also face off against No. 5 Concordia St. Paul, top-ranked University of Tampa and Indiana (PA.).

The Blazers are led by second-year head coach Kaleigh Zoucha, who helped lead the team to their first conference tournament berth since 2016, last season. The Blazers also notched ten conference wins, marking the most in a season since 2015. In Zoucha’s first year at the helm, the Blazers saw improvement in 2018, ranking 22nd nationally in service aces and second in the Gulf South Conference.

VSU returns several key players including senior and 2018 second team All-Gulf South Conference selection Kayla Widera. Widera totaled 221 kills and 316 points in a breakout 2018 campaign. The senior middle-blocker led the Blazers in blocks with 112 total rejections, including a career-high nine blocks against USC-Aiken on Aug. 31, 2018.

Junior Tammy Reyes-Perez also returns to the Blazers after a very successful sophomore season. Reyes-Perez tallied 1,173 assists, which was good for 48th nationally and second in the conference. She finished tied for the team lead in double-doubles with seven and finished the 2018 season with an impressive 9.54 assists per set, good for third in the conference.

Also returning for the Blazers this season is sophomore Jessie Mooney. Mooney had an outstanding freshman campaign for the Blazers saw her total 277 kills, good for second on the team. The outside hitter had 14 matches with double-digit kills and twice achieve a career-best 18 kills, once against Georgia College (10/25/18) and the other against West Georgia (10/27/18). Mooney starred in all 33 matches last year, with 24 of those coming as starts. The sophomore will attempt to continue her success during the 2019 season.

Senior Dariah Powell returns to the team and will look to take on a larger role in her final season. Powell appeared in 28 matches last season with 17 starts. Powell led the team in digs with 347 on the season. She contributed 105 kills and 43 assist and was fifth on the team in aces with 20 on the season.

The Blazers were picked sixth in the preseason Gulf South Conference Poll, released last month. Senior Kayla Widera was named to the GSC All-Preseason Team for Zoucha. VSU’s schedule might be daunting to people on the outside, but Zoucha and her staff are confident that it will only make them better.

“Of course, the first weekend is a challenge,” Zoucha said. “We will see the number one team in the country and other top teams in the country, but this will allow our team to grow and learn to compete at a high level.”

The Blazers open up the season and the tournament on Thursday in Tampa, Fla., as they face No. 17 Central Missouri at 7 p.m. VSU faces Indiana (PA.) on Friday evening at 5:15 p.m., before playing a doubleheader on Saturday against fifth-ranked Concordia St. Paul at 11 a.m., and top-ranked and defending national champion Tampa at 3 p.m.

Following this weekend’s tournament, VSU heads to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for the NSU Shark Invitational Sept. 13-14. The Blazers will face host Nova Southeastern, Florida Tech, Belmont Abbey and Southern New Hampshire. The 2019 home slate gets underway with rival Albany State on Sept. 17 at 6 p.m. in The Complex.

Check back with vstateblazers.com for information throughout the season on Blazer Volleyball and all 12 Blazer athletic teams. To purchase tickets for Blazer home events, call 229-333-SEAT (7328) or check the Tickets tab at vstateblazers.com.

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