The 2013 Arkansas-Pine Bluff volleyball team has only had one practice but found something a lot of teams never find — chemistry.
Second-year head coach Kyetta May brought in her first group of recruits — three freshmen and one transfer — and the connection with the returning players has been, so far, a strong one.
“It was a lot better start than we had last year,” junior Audrey Sherles said after Friday’s practice. “We connect a lot better as a group.
“Even still, we have to get to know each other better.”
The coach has noticed a much closer group, too.
“We’ve got good returnees and good newcomers,” May said. “The biggest thing (I’ve seen) has been the team camaraderie.”
Two of those returnees are seniors Rachel Hornbuckle and Rachel Tims.
“Both are great kids,” May said. “Great attitudes, very positive and bring a lot of energy.”
The team will need that energy to improve its play outside of H.O. Clemmons Arena. The 2012 Lady Lions finished with a record of 10-18 with seven of those wins coming at home.
“We have to be more disciplined,” May said of playing on the road. “It’s about being more disciplined individuals and being a more disciplined team.
“Overall, just being more ready to compete.”
“Last year, the connection between the girls was off,” Sherles said. “When we’d go on the road, we weren’t all focused on the mission of having the common goal, the common mindset, of winning.
“With the competitive group we have this year, it should be easier to keep focused on the game.”
Competitiveness is one of the qualities about the newcomers that have impressed the returning players.
“They are excited and enjoying being out here,” Sherles said of the newcomers. “They are a really competitive group.
“They are just a lot more serious.”
Based on the type of player she is, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that competitiveness is an important quality to Sherles.
“She brings the competitive nature we need,” May said of the 6-foot Oak Ridge, Tenn., native. “She’s the kind of dependable leader we need.
“She’s really aggressive. She can play all the way around at all six positions if need be.”
Gaining the physical ability needed to play all six positions is what Sherles worked on the most during the offseason.
“A lot of rehab and conditioning,” Sherles said of her offseason work. “Working on moving faster so I can play all six positions if I need to.
“I have weak knees, so just rehabbing those and, basically, just worked out a lot everyday.”
As a sophomore, Sherles led UAPB in kills (225), hitting percentage (.259) and blocks (36), while also finishing second on the squad in service aces (30).
The most impressive number of Sherles is the .259 hitting percentage, because it was more than twice the team average of .122. Just for comparison, the Lady Lions’ opponents hit at a clip of .197 this past season.
“It’s all about repetition,” May said. “This year, we have more hitters who are more competitive going full-throttle. …
“We have hitters who know when to attack and when to mix it up.”
Improving the team’s hitting percentage will be a key if the Lady Lions are to live up to May’s expectations.
“Improving from last year,” May said of her main goal. “Last year, we finished with 10 wins, so I hope to get at least 18 this year or finish as close to .500 as possible. …
“I also want us to finish stronger conference-wise, do better in the conference tournament and hopefully compete for a SWAC championship.”