College Volleyball: Livingstone now 17-5
By Laurie Willis
SALISBURY - Football season is winding down and basketball season is around the corner, but the buzz at Livingstone College these days is about the women's volleyball team.Under the direction of Head Coach Reggie Isley, the squad is 17-5 and among the leaders in the CIAA. And no matter how they fare the remainder of the season, they're guaranteed to finish with a better record than last year's 15-15 mark.
"I think we mesh a lot better this year," said sophomore Iman Isom, a libero and outside hitter from Laveen, Ariz. "We get along better as a team and we flow more on the court. Last year there was more competitiveness among the players, which took away from team cohesiveness."
Isley, in his seventh year as volleyball coach, said his squad is doing surprisingly well this season.
"After I lost three people I thought would return this year, I didn't think the team would do as well," Isley said. "I had to make a lot of adjustments and work with the players I had."
A typical volleyball team has 12-15 players. The Blue Bears have nine, which forces many of them cover more than one position.
"Even despite the number of players, we'll continue playing hard and as a team for the remainder of the season," Isley said. "We want to continue winning and not let the size of the team determine whether we have success in our games. After all, the number of players doesn't count nearly as much as the heart of those players."
Phylicia Egbuna is one of four seniors on Livingstone's team and shares captain duties with Isom and Lareecia Swiney.
She was selected to the All-CIAA pre-season team.
An outside hitter and a middle blocker for the Blue Bears, Egbuna is from Chula Vista, Calif., a San Diego suburb. She transferred to Livingstone from Southwestern College in Chula Vista.
"Volleyball brought me to North Carolina," she said. "It's my passion. I love it. I wanted to go to an HBCU, and Coach Isley found me and here I am."
Egbuna echoed Isom's sentiments about the way the team has come together.
"We did okay last year but not as well as we're doing now," she said. "This year we mesh more as a team, and we're playing unselfishly. One of our main middle hitters is out right now because she twisted her ankle, but even with our deficit we're still playing well."
Athletic Director Andre Springs praised Egbuna, who ranks first in kills throughout the conference.
"She's a senior, a captain and she shows great leadership," he said. "The fact that she's ranked in the CIAA shows what kind of student-athlete she is, and that's what we want here at Livingstone."
Presently, the Blue Bears are in second place in the CIAA's southern division with an 8-5 conference mark. They travel to Denmark, S.C., today, to face Voorhees College and Fisk University.
Their most notable victories this year came against Winston-Salem State University and St. Augustine's University.
"In one week we played two of the more dominate teams in the conference and we beat them both," Isley said. "That was big for us."
The Blue Bears have four players in the top five in various CIAA categories. As a team they rank first in blocks, service aces and digs. They also rank third in kills.
"We're doing great so far, but we still need to communicate better so we can dominate teams," said freshman outside hitter Lareecia Swiney from Forth Worth, Texas. "We come out slow, and it takes us some time to get in gear before we overpower our opponent. Other than that we're doing great. Phylicia Egbuna motivates us. She's a veteran and knows the game. I like what she brings to the team. If one of us gets down she picks us up. She's basically like the sunshine on the team. Her spirit on the court is very motivating. She's like a mom to us."
After today's contest, the Blue Bears are scheduled to host archrival Johnson C. Smith University at 6 p.m. Monday and St. Augustine's at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
Isley is hoping for a strong finish. "Our primary goal is to qualify for the CIAA tournament and complete the season at or above .500."
From the looks of things, the Blue Bears are on track to achieve just that.