UT Martin Beach Volleyball cranks up 2023 season this weekend with first of two straight tournaments at Missouri State

 UT Martin Beach Volleyball cranks up 2023 season this weekend with first of two straight tournaments at Missouri State

For the first time since stepping off the sand at the NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship Sweet 16 round in Gulf Shores, Alabama last May, UT Martin will be back in action this weekend for the 2023 season opener.

The Skyhawks will travel to the Volleyball Beach Ozark dome facility in Ozark, Missouri for each of the next two weekends to take part in tournaments hosted by Missouri State. During the first tournament of the 2023 campaign, UT Martin will take on Hendrix College (11 a.m.) and McKendree (4 p.m.) on Friday, Feb. 24 before squaring off against Oklahoma Wesleyan (9 a.m.) and Missouri State (11 a.m.) on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Head coach Jaclynn Wilson returns 11 players from last season’s Skyhawk squad that swept both the OVC regular season and tournament championships. That includes six UT Martin representatives on last year’s All-OVC list in Dylan Mott (first team, Freshman of the Year, All-Freshman), Haeleigh Paulino (second team), Logan Wallick (second team), Kambree Lucas (second team), Kayla Carrell (second team) and Addy Vaughn (All-Freshman).

Mott went 16-10 last season (including a remarkable 15-7 record at No. 1) with a 5-3 mark against OVC foes. She projects to not only be in one of the top two slots in the lineup for Wilson throughout the spring but is one of the favorites to land OVC Player of the Year honors.

A two-time All-OVC honoree, Paulino posted an 18-8 mark with a 7-1 record in OVC play a year ago. The Peoria, Ariz. native boasts a whopping 39-12 record during her three-year career, which includes 17 wins in 18 tries against league opposition.

Also nabbing her second consecutive All-OVC mention last year was Wallick, who will likely occupy one of the top two spots in the lineup. She proved to be versatile last season as she was responsible for a 15-11 record spread out over appearances at No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3.

Lucas has made one of the biggest leaps on the squad since last season as the junior out of Brazil, Ind. appears to have claimed a top position in one of the top two slots. She will look to follow up a 2022 season where she went 15-11 overall with a 6-2 record against league opponents.

Hailing from Pensacola, Fla., Carrell shattered the program’s record for most victories in 2022 as she went 24-1 – which was nine more wins than the previous record-holder. One-half of the OVC All-Tournament Most Valuable Pair, she has established a rapport with Paulino in the No. 4 position.

Vaughn has also been impressive during the preseason as the St. Henry, Ohio native is tentatively scheduled to play in the upper-half of the Skyhawk lineup. She played exclusively out of the No. 5 position last spring, tallying a 14-9 overall record.

Wilson welcomes the return of Lucy Kaufman to the UT Martin lineup as the redshirt senior missed all of 2022 after suffering an injury late in preseason camp. She played at No. 1 for the entire 2021 campaign, garnering OVC All-Tournament accolades that same season.

The only other Skyhawk returner who saw extensive playing time last spring is Brooke Kuball, who went 14-7 overall with a 4-1 record against OVC competition. The junior from Prather, Calif. has been playing alongside Kristin Phillips (a returner who redshirted last season) as that pair has shown great promise during the preseason.

Audrey Haworth (six official matches in 2022) and Mary Leslie Cranford (redshirted) complete the returners as those two are expected to push for playing time throughout the spring.

As it stands right now, four UT Martin newcomers will grace the lineup at some point this weekend. Olivia O’Keefe, the Tusculum University all-time career leader in victories out of the No. 1 position, got her first taste of NCAA Division I beach volleyball at the inaugural American Volleyball Coaches Association Fall Collegiate Beach Championships event held in Huntsville, Ala. back in November. She is penciled in at No. 1 or No. 2 alongside Lucas. Freshman Kayla Bryant has put together a great preseason and will likely appear in the No. 2 or No. 3 slots. Junior Ryan Rednour and sophomore Jenna Vallée are making a push to start immediately and have shown immense potential as a pair.

Halle Everett, a transfer from Memphis who just joined the Skyhawk program at the start of the semester, is expected to contend for a starting position as she becomes more acclimated to the program. The same can be said for Angel Baylark and Mia Saenz, who were both key factors in UT Martin’s indoor success back in the fall.

All 18 Skyhawks on the roster will have a chance to prove themselves this spring as UT Martin is slated to play 32 regular season matches – 10 more than the program’s previous high in a single season. Plenty of individual opportunities will arise before the Skyhawks host the 2023 OVC Championship tournament on April 27-29.