August 17, 2011 8:45:00 AM
OXFORD -- Joe Getzin knows the perils of involved in reaching the pinnacle of his profession.
He also realizes it sometimes is even tougher to remain at that elite level.
But the University of Mississippi volleyball team showed enough grit and tenacity at the right times last season to earn a return trip to the NCAA tournament. The bid, the program''s third, was one of six earned by Southeastern Conference teams.
Now the trick is to carve out a permanent place on the NCAA mountain, and Getzin feels the 2011 Rebels have the talent and experience to do it.
"I think last year''s group showed a lot of character in overcoming a lot of adversities along the way," said Getzin, whose team was hit by the loss of two starting players to anterior cruciate ligament injuries. It also was hurt by another player -- Whitney Craven -- who played with a torn meniscus and a deep bone bruise in the last four games. "It is exciting. I think they''re very excited. I think everyone who participated on last year''s team really came back with a vengeance in the spring and in the summer saying we could have done a lot more, and we want to prove that this year."
Ole Miss went 19-11 and lost to the University of North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Rebels also lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2007 and ''07. This season, Getzin feels the return of senior middle blocker Regina Thomas, Craven, and junior right side Allegra Wells is the core of a promising mix that could help the program earn its first NCAA victory.
"Building this program has been quite an experience for me," Getzin said. "I never thought it would take that long. I always knew Ole Miss has provided all of the pieces of the puzzle that we could get it done. The thing I have learned over the years, in my time here, and as an assistant coach at South Carolina is when you try to get to that next level each step becomes infinitely harder. I wish you could take that next step in the same amount, but unfortunately it doesn''t work that way."
Getzin said a disappointing 14-15 season prevented the Rebels from making it to the NCAA tournament three years in a row. A rebuilding season in 2009 followed before the team showed what Getzin called a combination of "character and guts and a little determination" to get back on top.
This season, Ole Miss is picked to finish second in the SEC Western Division, which should put it right back into the postseason mix.
Thomas, who tore her ACL and missed the final six matches of the season, also was selected as a preseason All-SEC pick by the league''s coaches. Last year, she earned All-America and All-SEC honors after hitting .451 in conference play (.421 on the season).
"She was able to change her arm swing to the point where she is top five in the country in hitting percentage," Getzin said. "That is hard work on her part. We gave her drills to do, but she wore out a towel whipping it against the wall."
Despite Thomas'' gaudy numbers, Ole Miss still had a hitting percentage of .203, which speaks to Getzin''s comments about his team''s ability to "manufacture" victories.
Losing middle blocker Miranda Kitts, who was one of four players with 260 or more kills last season, will be tough to replace, but the development of Wells, who spent part of the offseason with the USA Volleyball A2 National Training Program, should provide a boost.
Getzin feels the team has enough pieces to be a force in the SEC and to challenge the mark of the 2007 team, which won 25 games (14 in SEC).
Ole Miss will open the season Friday, Aug. 26, with an exhibition match against the Israeli National team at the Burnt Orange Classic at the University of Texas. Ole Miss then will face Pepperdine and No. 4 Texas on Aug. 27.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.