VCU’s volleyball team will kick-start its season Aug. 28, playing against Purdue University. It will be the opening match of the Mortar Board Premier, with VCU playing three matches in two days on the Belin Court at Holloway Gymnasium.
The Rams are coming off a 17-13 season (9-5 in the Atlantic-10) and were also A-10 semifinalists. VCU returns eight letter-winners and have added four new freshmen to the team.
Head coach Jody Rodgers is back for her third year, alongside last year’s statistical leader in senior Kalah Jones, who returns after averaging 3.27 kills last season. Key contributors returning for the 2015-16 season includes senior Uzoamaka Ibeh, and sophomores Jessica Young and Rebekah Strange; the three also lead the team in blocks and digs last year.
The two assistant coaches remain the same, as Chad Gatzlaff (third season, Minnesota State ’09) and Tim Doyle (second season, Ohio State ’10) return for another year on the coaching staff for the Rams.
Former VCU walk-on Janelle Sykes won’t be returning for this season. Sykes went out with a bang last year as a senior, being named First Team All-A-10 Conference and VA SID First Team All-State. Sykes’ volleyball career won’t be coming to a close anytime soon as she has inked a deal with Azeryol Baku of Azerbaijan’s Super League, considered one of the top national leagues in European volleyball.
Rodgers said she is proud of her former middle blocker, but not surprised.
“This is all on her,” Rodgers said. “It’s exciting for her and kudos to her for working her tail off and making people around her great.”
Sykes isn’t the only Ram moving on to play professionally, as Cecilia Aragao signed a contract with Calcit in Slovenia a week after Sykes signed her deal. Aragao has graduated prior to her garnishing First Team All-A-10 and Second Team All-State honors.
Aragao is excited about the potential success to be had in her upcoming professional season away from VCU.
“I had incredible people around me, other VCU athletes and coaches from my past, friends and family that gave support and confidence that I shouldn’t stop,” Aragao said. “I’m really excited that a great opportunity came my way.”
With Aragao moving on, the setter position is now up for grabs, as the Rams are looking for one of the younger players to step in and pick up where Aragao left off.
With these players graduating, the Rams have transitioned to a younger roster. Rodgers is calling on her older players to embrace the leadership role for the upcoming season.
“I told them that you’ll have a lot of young players this year that you’re going to have to guide,” Rodgers said. “I want my leaders to embrace that.”
Jones won’t be satisfied with anything other than a championship this season.
“We’ve had second place, we want to win, and we want a ring,” Jones said.