North Carolina Central University Volleyball faced setback at Pre-season Woof Woof Invitational

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DURHAM, N.C. – The North Carolina Central University volleyball team lost matches against UNC Asheville and Alabama A&M last weekend at the Woof Woof Invitational hosted by UNC Asheville. The young squad faces a tough non-conference schedule for their first month of play to ultimately make the Eagles a contender for their last 14 matches against fellow Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opposition.

NCCU has a .500 record in MEAC matches over head coach Jody Brown’s first seven seasons and he feels a deeper roster at all positions will give the Eagles a chance at their best league run yet.

The 2023 roster is constructed with 10 letter winners and five newcomers. The youthful squad does not have a single player who is in their fourth year at NCCU, and only two Eagles are in their third year with the program. However, the team does return its top hitter from last season, a veteran presence at its specialist positions and a pair of graduate students playing their final year of collegiate volleyball at NCCU to provide experience and leadership.

Sophomore Kamren Harper (Simpsonville, S.C.) led the maroon and gray with 2.61 kills per set last season on the way to being named to the MEAC All-Rookie Team. Harper provided 3.3 points her set in league play with added strength as a server, ranking second on the team in total aces.

Isa Dostal (Ljubljana, Slovenia) and Jeslyn Spencer (Ewa Beach, Hawaii) are NCCU’s two graduate transfers and they will provide NCCU with multiple options on attack to go along with Harper as they each play their fifth collegiate season of collegiate volleyball. Dostal, who played at Marshall University and Jacksonville University, and Spencer, who played at Oral Roberts University, both sport career averages of over one kill per set at the collegiate ranks.

Sophomore Emmie Modlin (Pinehurst, N.C.) is coming off a solid rookie season in which she averaged 1.38 kills per set. Modlin and classmate Jaelyn Hall (Raleigh, N.C.) add depth to NCCU’s attack and Modlin may see some time as a setter in her second season.

On the front row, NCCU will have a combination of its most experienced and least experienced players at the blocker positions. In her last season at Jacksonville, Dostal ranked second on her team in blocks per set. Also, juniors Kennedy Clark (Charlotte, N.C.) and Lejla Viteskic (Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina) are now in their third year with the program and can see more time with the departure of NCCU’s top two leaders in blocks.

Moldin and Clark are NCCU’s co-captains for the 2023 season.

Brown believes the blocking position will be one of NCCU’s strengths this season with a deeper group than ever before. Joining the three experienced blockers for the maroon and gray will be a trio of freshmen in Amarah Johnson (Naples, Fla.), Carlin Collins (Charlotte, N.C.) and Jenelle Mason (Durham, N.C.). They provide length and athleticism around the net as rookies and they all can be offensive options as well.

Junior Loren Johnson (Charlotte, N.C.) was the primary libero for the Eagles last season and she is expected to wear the alternate colored jersey again in her season at NCCU. Johnson had an outstanding campaign last season, leading the team in both digs and aces. She ranked third in the MEAC with 3.72 digs per set and fourth in the league with 0.42 aces per set.

Johnson is accompanied by another second-year defensive specialist in junior Neira Joldic (Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina), who played in 23 matches in her first season at NCCU, for depth and protection at the libero position.

In total, the Eagles return six of their top seven players in total digs. Joining Johnson and Joldic are Harper, Modlin, junior Vanila Pulu-Suliafu (Diamond Bar, Calif.) and junior Azra Osmanovic (Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina).

Pulu-Suliafu ranked fourth in the MEAC with 6.59 assists per set as NCCU’s primary setter last season, but she also ranked second on the team and among the league leaders with 2.2 digs per set. Her strong play on the back row may lead to her seeing more time as a defensive specialist now that there is more depth at the setter position.

Osmanovic followed Pulu-Suliafu in assists last season, but may see more time at the setter position along with junior transfer Bella Dearinger (Muncie, Ind.), who comes to NCCU after setting and playing right side at Murray State University. Dearinger, who is strong defensively as well, and the other three NCCU setters may lead to the Eagles playing more of a 6/2 setter system in contrast to recent seasons.

The Eagles have qualified for the MEAC Volleyball Championship tournament each of NCCU’s first seven seasons under the direction of Brown, but NCCU only has one postseason win over that span. In order to be contenders, NC Central will most likely have to compete at a high level against some of the favorites to win the conference title. Coppin State and Howard were picked in a tie for first in the 2023 MEAC Preseason Order of Finish poll after they tied for the regular season title last season. Both Howard and CSU have three Preseason All-MEAC selections. Delaware State won the conference tourney last season and is picked third in the preseason poll. Rounding out the preseason poll from 4-8 was Norfolk State, NC Central, Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State and South Carolina State.

Source: Kevin Buczek/NCCUEaglePride.com