It was a season of new beginnings for Volleyball in 2019, highlighted by the Lady Cougars' first Region VII playoff win and championship appearance in program history.
The road to get to the runner-up finish was a difficult one for the Lady Cougars as they went 11-16 with a tough schedule. The slate featured multiple games against formidable opponents, such as the NJCAA's current 17th-ranked team Wallace State, the 23-9 Gadsden State Cardinals, and the fifth-ranked NCCAA Division II Johnson Royals. Head coach Alizabeth Atnip said this about the complexity of the team's schedule, "We played a lot of tough and ranked school this season. It helped to develop everyone, but it didn't show on our record."
However, the 2-2 mark in Region VII play was a spot of great improvement for the Lady Cougars. For the first time in program history, Cleveland State claimed a victory in a region matchup, which was a five-set thriller at home against Chattanooga State on Sept. 25. The Lady Cougars also swept the Lady Tigers 4-0 in the season series, including their first-round Region VII Tournament game 3-1 on Oct. 25.
This season was the first at the helm for Atnip and her assistant Hannah Osborne and featured a roster with just two returning sophomores and 13 talented freshman. Of the youth on her roster, Atnip said, "It was not a bad thing [to have that many freshman] as they all contributed greatly to this team. But, having to teach almost everyone our system, plays, and philosophy was a longer process than usual."
Two Lady Cougars from the 2019 roster earned All-Region team honors. Stephanie Burke, who was first on the team in kills, kills per set, hitting percentage and points and also ranked in the top three of each of these categories in the region, was named to the team. Sydney Allen, who led the team and region in assists, also earned a spot alongside her.
All in all, the season was an exciting and memorable one for Cleveland State Volleyball. "We had a big group of players come in with lots of energy and excitement that worked their tails off," said Atnip of the 2019 campaign. "I love what they have accomplished as a group and as individuals. We put up fights against ranked teams that didn't expect a battle. I am pleased with how the season developed. Obviously, there were some ups and downs, but we let the downs teach and motivate us to finish the season strong. Every girl on this team should be proud of the work they put in and the results we have seen. I am already looking forward to next season!"
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