By Chris Parker
The Pleasant Hope volleyball program has been on the rise in the last couple years. Last season, the Pirates won 23 matches going 23-10-1 overall. The success of the volleyball program can be directly linked to the decision to move softball to the spring season.
“The upward movement of this program is linked to one main thing: the move to spring softball and the athletes this move brought to the court,” Pleasant Hope head coach Crystal Turner said. “Last year’s senior; two-year floor captain Janae Shirk came over from softball her junior year and immediately impacted every aspect of the program. Last year’s seniors added an extra love for playing that remains in the gym today. They leave behind an excitement and interest for the game that wasn’t as present before they came through.”
Shirk was named first-team all-conference after she led Pleasant Hope in kills with 180 last year.
A top returning player for Pleasant Hope junior outside hitter Jianna Halbrook. Halbrook earned first-team all-conference honors last season. She led the team in blocks (11) while finishing second in kills (150), aces (62), digs (260) and serve-receives (227).
“Ji is a dynamic athlete who works hard on and is always hungry to get better in every aspect of the game,” Turner said. “She has been a graceful and thoughtful leader her first two years on the team, and her growth will continue. We will look to her to set a confident, competitive tone on the court, and positive relational connection in the locker room.”
Keighlyn Johnson (senior setter/outside hitter), Abbey Swearingen (outside hitter) and Taylor Burns (junior setter/outside hitter) also return this year. Johnson and Burns led Pleasant Hope in assists last year with 301 and 219, respectively.
Senior Jayden Marshall is returning to the volleyball program after spending the last two fall seasons running cross country. She will be at middle blocker. Sophomore Jayden Miner will also be a middle blocker this year. Junior Alexis Daugherty and sophomore Kylie Tucker will share libero responsibilities.
“I look for this group to be even more competitive as a whole. We will focus on playing at a higher level of speed and movement this season with the expectation of winning more of the big games than we did last year. Falling to Miller and Stockton at the end of the season last year will be a motivator for growth here,” Turner said.
Pleasant Hope will open the season on Sept. 1 at home against Everton.