Fresh off winning the Rutgers Tournament in Piscataway, New Jersey, the NC State volleyball team is above .500 for the first time this season with a 5-4 record. Before the team returns to Reynolds Coliseum to prepare for the 2021 ACC-SEC Challenge, let’s take a look at some early season takeaways from the team.
Taylor Rowland breaking through
So far, graduate opposite hitter Melissa Evans and senior outside hitter Jade Parchment have been exactly as advertised on the offensive side of the net. Both of the team’s star offensive players have delivered in every match, with the duo recently earning All-Tournament honors in the Rutgers tournament and Evans herself taking home the MVP award for the tourney.
But something the star-studded duo didn’t have last season was a strong third option. To put it into perspective, Evans finished last season with 230 kills and Parchment with 219. The next closest player last season was former opposite hitter Lydia Adam, who had 72.
However, the Pack has not one but two players that have already surpassed that mark just nine matches into the season, compared to last year’s 16-match stretch. Redshirt junior outside hitter Taylor Rowland is one of those players and freshman middle blocker Jada Allen is the other, more on the latter later.
Kills aren’t the end all, be all, stat to show offensive prowess, but they are a strong indication of the kind of impact a player is having. Evans’ dominance and importance to not just the volleyball program, but NC State Athletics as a whole is marked by the several kill records she has broken. As for Rowland, the third-year player has stepped up in a big way, notching 107 kills through a fraction of the time she played last season, when she racked up 60.
Rowland’s breakthrough season is huge for the Pack for a number of reasons. The team could lose several veteran players next season to graduation, with Evans, Parchment, senior middle blocker Pam Chukwujekwu and graduate Kaylee Frazier all boasting senior standing or higher. It’s important for the Wolfpack to establish which players can lead the next wave of the program as head coach Luka Slabe begins to transition from the roster he inherited.
Secondly, and most importantly for this season, it’s extremely key for the Wolfpack to have more players who can complete offensive plays. Last season, the Pack offense had a tendency to get stuck in the mud, and it’s why the team had such an up-and-down end to the year. This year’s squad struggled early but has since found rhythm and the wins over East Carolina and Wofford are nothing to sneeze at, especially considering both programs finished higher than NC State in last season’s RPI rankings.
Rowland had a rough going against ECU, but was huge in knocking off Wofford en route to a huge sweep. She finished that match with a team-leading 13 kills and 14.5 points.
The third-year has been outright fantastic to begin the year; her 3.34 kills per set are also a career-best, as is her hitting percentage.
Young corps stepping up
As is the case with Allen, the team’s newcomers and younger players have been able to step in in the biggest of ways thus far. Not many have been more instrumental in helping keep the season afloat than freshman setter Maggie Jones, who stepped up in a big way against NJIT in the team’s tournament finale.
In case you missed it, Jones stepped in for the injured junior setter Kristen McDaniel, and delivered several beautiful passes to end up with a career-high 41 assists, good for 13.7 per set. It’s presently unknown how long McDaniel will be forced to miss with the injury she suffered earlier in the tournament, but the team has to feel good with a dominant insurance policy in Jones, who has seemingly picked up quite a lot from the veteran setter.
Freshman opposite hitter Amanda Rice has also stepped in and made her presence felt by delivering 13 kills in limited playing time.
Further, freshman libero Saskia Hernandez is a highly touted prospect from Miami, Florida who has a high chance to step in sooner rather than later. Technician’s Assistant Sports Editor Bryan Pyrtle recently got a chance to speak with Hernandez, linked here.
Jada Allen is the truth
Speaking of young talented players, the Wolfpack has something incredibly special in Allen. Allen has popped off the page immediately, registering 79 kills (fourth on team), 98 points (fourth), 2.47 kills per set (fifth), a .418 hitting percentage (first), 24 blocks (first) and has just 15 errors to boot.
Allen has been nothing short of tremendous, as noted by her spectacular statistics, and her versatility to play both sides of the net at such a high level is perfect for the program.
The first-year Swiss Army knife’s dominance was on full display in the Rutgers tournament, especially in the last match against NJIT. In that matchup, Allen registered a ridiculously high .636 hits on 11 attempts with eight kills. Allen, like Rowland, has significantly helped take the load off not only Evans and Parchment on the offensive end, but also Chukwujekwu and sophomore middle blocker Riley Shaak on the defensive side of the net.