After an offseason of uncertainty amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coastal Carolina women’s volleyball team is ecstatic to get back on the court this season.
The Chants will begin their 2020 campaign on Sept. 25 at South Alabama for three games that will finish on Sept. 26.
Assistant coach CJ Allard thinks that despite the unorthodox preparations that the team had to make this offseason, the Chants have a legitimate shot at winning the Sun Belt Championship — something they failed to do last season after falling to No. 1 seed Texas State in the conference title match, causing them to just miss out on an at-large bid to the NCAA Volleyball Tournament.
“It’s been very different and it has been full of last-minute changes and uncertainty and mask-wearing,” he said. “(There have been) extra steps to be able to get onto the court, extra steps that the players and coaches have to take as soon as they exit the court. But the mission has not changed and it’s been really refreshing to see the young women in the program and everybody associated with our bubble (cooperate).”
Allard believes the team’s mission, although one that some would deem a cliché, will help the team in its endeavors this season.
“The mission has always been give 100 percent every day,” he said. “And then it’s (head coach) Jozsef’s (Forman) and my job to ensure that we recruit well enough that if we do give 100 percent every day, that we have the opportunity to win championships and that will be the case again this year. If we can bring it every single day, regardless of any outside noise or outside influence, we should have a really good shot in November.”
Coastal Carolina will once again be led by junior opposite hitter Annet Nemeth, who was the 2019 Sun Belt Player of the Year.
“It felt great,” Nemeth said. “I thought throughout the season I played well and I think as a team we played well. We help each other out all the time and it just felt really good to get that award. It showed me and it proved (to) me that I’m on the right path, I’m doing my job well.”
While Nemeth would like to win the award again this season, her first priority is the success of her team.
“Yes, I want to repeat it, but first of all, I want the team to succeed,” she said. “So if we can succeed in a way that means everyone is bringing the same numbers and stuff, everyone is two or three steps above someone else so none of us (are) putting up stats that mean someone can get the Player of the Year Award, but as a team we win the championship, that’s more important for me.”
Nemeth had a long list of accolades last season in addition to winning the Sun Belt Player of the Year, including VolleyballMag.com Fourth Team All-American, American Volleyball Association (AVCA) All-America Honorable Mention, AVCA All-Region First Team, Sun Belt All-Tournament Team, Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year, All-Sun Belt First Team and Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week four times.
Nemeth reached the 30-kill mark three times last season, including when she broke a single-match school record with 33 kills against Troy. She reached the 20-kill plus mark 14 times in the 27 matches she participated in and totaled 515 kills, a .351 hitting percentage, 25 assists, 38 service aces, and 82 blocks (nine solo and 73 block assists) on the season.
She now holds the CCU all-time single-season records in kills and kills per set. She is second all-time at CCU for single-season points and points per set and is third in hitting percentage for a season. This is all since the conversion of the 25-point scoring format started in 2008.
“Annet is just a world-class volleyball player,” Allard said. “She is one of the few people in the world, from a percentage standpoint, who get to put her country’s colors on her chest and represent her country and not just be on the team; she’s Hungary’s best player. So that experience and that ability is unmatched in the Sun Belt, which is why she was the Player of the Year last year, you know, she’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Barring us not doing our job well enough or an injury, she’ll get those awards again this year.
“So it’s that consistency, it’s that ability to perform whether we’re killing an opponent or maybe not playing to our best; maybe we’re on the receiving end of an unbalanced score. But you always know Annet’s going to show up and you can’t put a value on that. Showing up every day is a remarkable trait at such a young age.”
A big reason why Annet chose to play at Coastal Carolina is because she was familiar with Forman, who is also from Hungary.
“Yeah, so, back home in Hungary, most people in volleyball know Jozsef because he’s been coaching for a long time; he was a really good coach in Hungary — he had great results,” she said. “And then everyone knows that now he’s coaching in the U.S., so pretty much why I got here is because when I got to the point in high school that I went to go for schools, he reached out to me, he talked to me a lot about the program here; his expectations, his plans, and I really liked what he told me. So, he’s pretty much the main reason why I ended up going to Coastal.”
On Sept. 8, the university’s athletic department received approval from the South Carolina Department of Commerce to host spectators at fall sport home events in Brooks Stadium, the HTC Center, and the CCU Soccer Stadium. The approval is in accordance with South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster’s outline of a procedure for exceptions to gathering restrictions in an Executive Order.
According to the CCU Athletic Department, Brooks Stadium will be allowed to have up to 5,000 occupants, while the HTC Center, where the volleyball team plays, and CCU Soccer Stadium can have up to 150 fans.
“Oh, it was amazing,” Allard said about the news. “We love putting on a show for our fans, and we have such an amazing fan base of young kids and older retired adults who just love coming and supporting Coastal athletics and Coastal volleyball, and families and students and faculty at the school (also love coming). We have such an eclectic group of people who support us. Of course, 150, we won’t be able to allow everybody who wants to come to come in. I guess we will have a sellout every home match this year, which will be nice for our marketing team.”
Nemeth is excited to have crowds at matches because she and the team were unsure if that was a possibility.
“Well, because of the whole situation, I think we were all expecting to play behind closed gates with no fans,” she said. “So, compared to that, when we heard we can have 150 people, we were happy of course because we love to have people in there. We love that our friends or people who just want to watch volleyball can come and cheer us; it gives a lot to our game. And of course, it’s not as good as (if) you could have as many people as HTC could fit, but it’s something, so we’re glad to have someone.”