College of Coastal Georgia volleyball team members Maddie Bounds, from left, Emma Anderson, Rachel Amundson, Cayley Meiners and Jennifer Johnson react after Coastal beat Embry-Riddle on Nov. 22 at Howard Coffin Gym in the opening round of the NAIA Volleyball National Championship. The Mariners enjoyed a 35-4 season that saw two players earn All-America honors. Photo by Bobby Haven/ The Brunswick News.
The experience of going to the national tournament was an important one for Jeff Huebner and his College of Coastal Georgia volleyball team. Both the head coach and his players got to see up close what it takes to win at the highest level. And Huebner and Co. think they have what it takes — the talent, the commitment, the chemistry — to get back there and do some damage.
“When you draw up your year, you draw it up like this and work as hard as you can to make it happen,” said Huebner, who started the Coastal Georgia program in 2011. “We didn’t perform as well at nationals as we think we could have, but I don’t think there’s any way to prepare for a national championship besides going there. It’s different than other sports because there is such a team dynamic. For us, you can’t have the experience without having the experience. There is no way to replicate it. The whole thing was a good experience.”
Coastal Georgia’s season came to an end Thursday in the pool play round of the NAIA National Volleyball Championship in Sioux City, Iowa. The Mariners, ranked No. 23 entering the tournament, fell in successive days to No. 4 Biola University, No. 9 Viterbo and No. 16 Madonna, winning just one set in the three best-of-five matches.
Biola and Viterbo would each advance to the national semifinals from Coastal Georgia’s pool, where Viterbo fell to Texas at Brownsville (34-5) and Biola took eventual national champion Park University of Missouri (40-0) to five sets before being eliminated.
“We were the only pool in the tournament that had two teams go to the final four,” said Huebner. “For our first go, we are not lacking for competition and for what it takes. We played the best of the best. That is what you want to get out of the national tournament. You want to play the best of the best and see where you’re really at.”
Coastal lost just once during the regular season and finished 35-4 overall, a campaign that included the championship of both the regular season and the tournament in the Southern States Athletic Conference. In his four seasons at Coastal, Huebner’s teams are 91-51 overall.
The past two seasons, the Mariners are 61-15 overall and a remarkable 29-3 in conference play.
“It was phenomenal,” Coastal Georgia Athletic Director Bee Carlton said of the trip to the national tournament and the season as a whole. “I told Jeff, to think this would have happened in four (seasons), you could have taken it to Las Vegas and made a ba-jillion dollars. It’s remarkable. When he hired him, we literally didn’t have a volleyball. We had a dream and a plan, and he was certainly the one to do all the hard work and have the vision to know how to get it done.”
Five Mariners were honored by the SSAC as all-conference performers, and Cayley Meiners and Emma Anderson became the first Coastal Georgia players in the four-year history of the program to be voted All-Americans. On Monday, Meiners, a sophomore setter, was named a second team NAIA All-American and junior outside hitter Anderson was named to the third team.
Meiners finished the season with a school-record 1,151 assists and averaged 12.1 assists per set to lead the country. Anderson finished with a team-best 386 kills and her final .320 hitting percentage put her 26th in the country.
“As a team, we’re
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