2018 Season Preview: New Era Begins

Athletics Communications
By Athletics Communications
University of Oklahoma

The new era of Oklahoma volleyball is underway.

Head coach Lindsey Gray-Walton begins her inaugural season at the helm on Friday as the Sooners head to Dekalb, Ill., for the NIU Invitational. The 2017 AVCA Assistant Coach of the Year at Kentucky, Gray-Walton is joined on the sidelines by first-year OU assistants Jake Barreau and Megan Pendergast and volunteer assistant Kyle Walton.

Upon arriving in Norman, the new coaching staff immediately got to work. They added a pair of sophomore transfers in defensive specialist Keyton Kinley and setter Kylee McLaughlin in January. They signed three incoming freshmen – defensive specialist Aysia Harty and outside hitters Sabrina Simms and Olga Zampati – in April before adding another transfer, middle blocker Brianna Kadiku. Then, defensive specialist Haley Sanchez transferred to join the Sooners in August.

The seven new Sooners join OU’s nine returning student-athletes, including a core group of four seniors: Audrey Alford, Madison Drescher, Alyssa Enneking and Morgan Miller, who combined for 92 starts in 2017.

Alford assumed the starting setter role late in her freshman season and held on to it throughout her sophomore and junior campaigns. She currently ranks ninth in program history with 2,544 career assists, including 835 in 2017.

Joining Alford at the setter position is McLaughlin, who comes to Norman after spending her first collegiate season at Oregon State. A native of Carrollton, Texas, McLaughlin was named the 2017 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and AVCA Pacific North Freshman of the Year. She totaled 15 double-doubles and was the only Pac-12 player to post a triple-double in 2017.

McLaughlin joined outside hitter Enneking as Oklahoma’s representatives on the Preseason All-Big 12 Team. Enneking enters her senior season after a breakout junior year, earning AVCA Honorable All-America honors and All-Big 12 First Team accolades. Last year, Enneking averaged a league-best 4.20 kills per set. Her 4.30 average in league matches ranked second and she averaged 4.36 against ranked opponents and 4.32 in 12 matches against teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Overall, she totaled 16 double-doubles in 2017, the most by a Sooner since 2011. 

Also returning in the outside hitter position are Drescher and sophomores Sarah Maras and Sarah Sanders. Drescher, who ranked second on the team in 2017 with 2.89 kills per set, is expected to spend time at middle blocker as well during the 2018 campaign. Playing 103 sets with 16 starts last year, Drescher hit .151and totaled 33 blocks, averaging 0.32 blocks per set.

Maras earned considerable experience as a freshman, appearing in 64 sets with 12 starts. She totaled 63 kills in 2017, finishing her first season as a Sooner with a .157 hitting percentage. The Tulsa, Okla., product also registered 46 blocks and a 0.72 blocks per set average, second best on the team.

Sanders played in 26 sets over 13 matches during her freshman season. In April, she was named to the U.S. Women’s Collegiate National Team-Detroit roster, training and competing with the group June 22-July 1.

Incoming freshmen Simms and Zampati will bolster the outside hitter group. A four-year varsity starter at Liberty Christian School, Simms earned All-State honors each season and was named offensive player of the year three times. Simms played with Texas Image Volleyball for four years and was named to the 2015 GJNC All-Tournament Team.

Zampati comes to Norman from Athens, Greece, touting an impressive background with experience at the international level. She has been a member of the U15, U17, U18 and most recently U19 Greek National Teams over the past four years. Zampati was also a member of the Moraitis High School teams that placed first in the private school championships in 2015-16, ’16-17 and ’17-18 and first nationally in ’16-17.

Drescher will add depth to a quickly-developing middle blocker group. Sophomore Paige Anderson started every match and played every set at middle blocker in 2017, the only Sooner to do so in all 29 contests. Her .238 hitting percentage led the team, and she ranked fourth with 176 kills and a 1.64 kills per set average. Additionally, Anderson led the team with 84 total blocks (nine solo, 75 assisted), averaging 0.79 blocks per set.

Classmate Hali’a Hogan returns at the middle blocker position for OU after an ACL injury sidelined her in 2017. A product of Kaneohe, Hawaii, Hogan was a three-time letterwinner at the ‘Iolani School in Honolulu, where she guided her team to the 2016 Hawaii State Championship and a runner-up finish in 2015.

Joining Anderson and Hogan for 2018 is Kadiku, who spent the first two seasons of her career at Memphis. Kadiku played in all 32 of the Tigers’ matches in 2017, starting in 31. She led the team in blocks with 131, averaging 1.11 blocks per set. Her 256 kills were second-most on the team last season, and she led Memphis with a .305 hitting percentage. She earned weekly honors from the American Athletic Conference twice.

Rounding out the Sooner roster are four defensive specialists. Sophomore Kira Morikawa is Oklahoma’s lone returner in the position group. Morikawa started 13 matches for the Sooners as libero in 2017, totaling 188 digs and averaging 1.98 digs per set during her freshman campaign.

Transfers Kinley and Sanchez are both poised to make an impact on the Sooner defense in 2018. Kinley spent her freshman season at Tennessee in 2017. She played in 49 sets across 19 matches, including three starts. Kinley averaged 1.39 digs per set and added seven assists and four service aces. Kinley picked up a season-high nine digs at Auburn to go with two aces.

Sanchez comes to Oklahoma after spending the first two seasons of her career at Bakersfield College. A native of Bakersfield, Calif., Sanchez averaged 4.26 digs, 1.38 assists and 0.53 service aces per set in 2017 to be honored as Western State Conference Libero of the Year. 

Incoming freshman Harty joins the Sooner defensive specialist after a successful career at McKinney Boyd High School, where she garnered All-District accolades three times, including first-team recognition in her senior season. She has also been a part of the Dallas Skyline Juniors for the last 11 years, helping her team qualify for nationals for the past six seasons and earning Defensive Player of the Year in her last two years.

Oklahoma opens its 2018 campaign at the NIU Invitational, where it will face Xavier on Friday and DePaul and Northern Illinois on Saturday. The NIU Invitational is the first of three consecutive road tournaments for OU. The Sooners return to McCasland Field House Sept. 14-15 to host Texas A&M and Northwestern State in the OU Nike Invitational. Season and single-match tickets are on sale now.

2018 OU Volleyball Schedule
Date Opponent Location Time (CT)
Aug. 24 Xavier* Dekalb, Ill. 3 p.m.
Aug. 25 DePaul* Dekalb, Ill. 11 a.m.
Aug. 25 Northern Illinois* Dekalb, Ill. 7 p.m.
Aug. 31 Pitt^ Orange, N.J. 4:30 p.m. 
Sept. 1 VCU^ Orange, N.J. 1 p.m.
Sept. 1 Seton Hall^ Orange, N.J. 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 Colorado# Boulder, Colo. 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 North Carolina# Boulder, Colo. 12 p.m.
Sept. 8 Georgia# Boulder, Colo. 5 p.m.
Sept. 14 Northwestern State$ Norman 11 a.m.
Sept. 14 Texas A&M$ Norman 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 Texas A&M$ Norman 5 p.m.
Sept. 19 TCU Fort Worth, Texas 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 Kansas State Norman 7 p.m.
Sept. 26 Kansas Norman 7 p.m.
Sept. 29 Baylor Waco, Texas TBD
Oct. 3 Iowa State Ames, Iowa 7 p.m.
Oct. 10 Texas Tech Norman 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 Texas Norman 7 p.m.
Oct. 20 West Virginia Norman 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 24 Kansas State Manhattan, Kan. 7 p.m.
Oct. 27 Texas Austin, Texas 7 p.m.
Nov. 3 Baylor Norman 7 p.m.
Nov. 7 Texas Tech Lubbock, Texas 7 p.m.
Nov. 9 TCU Norman 7 p.m.
Nov. 14 Iowa State Norman 7 p.m.
Nov. 17 West Virginia Morgantown, W. Va. 2 p.m.
Nov. 24 Kansas Lawrence, Kan. TBD
*Northern Illinois Invitational     ^Seton Hall Tournament
#Colorado Invitational               $OU Nike Invitational