Photo | University of Mobile

Last year, UM junior outside hitter Mirella Gatterdam collected 521 kills (third all-time for a single season at UM and sixth in the NAIA), with a .293 hitting percentage.

Volleyball can trace its history back to the 1890s, when a YMCA director needed an indoor sport to offer during the winter months. It has now grown into one of the most popular games across the globe.

Fans of volleyball are fortunate in that our three local colleges have teams competing for postseason honors. Here is a quick glance at the squads:

• The University of Mobile (UM) is coming off the greatest campaign in school history. The Rams finished with a 38-4 record, winning a school-record 27 consecutive matches before falling in the NAIA national tournament. They also went undefeated in the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) regular season and won the SSAC Tournament.

Despite losing several key players to graduation, another great season is expected. UM has been picked to repeat as conference champs, according to the SSAC Volleyball Coaches’ preseason poll. The Rams got all nine first-place votes for a total of 81 points. Next were William Carey with 62 and Faulkner with 58.

“We are excited to start another season ranked first in the SSAC, but competition will determine the rankings as the season gets rolling,” head coach Jon Campbell said. “We plan to train and prepare to earn our position in the conference.”

The top returner for UM is junior outside hitter Mirella Gatterdam, who earned Honorable Mention All-American, Northeast Region Player of the Year and Conference Player of the Year honors. She collected 521 kills (third all-time for a single season at UM and sixth in the NAIA), with a .293 hitting percentage.

Jocelyn Mahayag, a senior libero, was first-team all-conference. She shattered the single-season record for digs with 668 and had only 19 reception errors in 44 matches.

The Rams have two other players who were named to the SSAC’s second-team unit — junior Samantha Nichols and sophomore Carley Hamric, both middle blockers.

• In the Sun Belt Conference Coaches’ preseason poll, the University of South Alabama (USA) received four first-place votes on the way to finishing second in the East Division behind Coastal Carolina. Texas State was picked to win the SBC West Division with 10 of 12 first-place votes.

The Jaguars’ middle blocker, Kelley Hartman, was named to the preseason all-conference roster. She was a 2017 first-team All-SBC selection after leading the league in blocks per set (1.29), which ranked 36th nationally, while also finishing tied for second in hitting percentage (.321). In league matches, Hartman finished tied for second in blocks per set (1.15), ranked third in hitting percentage (.367) and fourth in service aces per set (0.26).

Hartman earned an all-Southeast honorable mention from the American Volleyball Coaches Association last season. She recorded 124 total blocks, which ranks sixth on the Jaguar single-season record list. Hartman led South Alabama in kills (245), kills per set (2.55), hitting percentage (.319), solo blocks (35), block assists (89), total blocks (124) and blocks per set (1.29).

USA returns 11 letter-winners from last year’s squad, which won a program-record 12 SBC matches. South’s 17 wins were the most by a Jag team since 1994. Middle blocker Morgan Stalcup tied for second in blocks per set (1.15) in conference matches and finished sixth in the league in blocks per set (1.06) in all matches.

• These are exciting times at Spring Hill College (SHC), as the Badgers are now eligible for NCAA Division II postseason action. Since they were still in the transitional phase last year, they remained home despite a perfect 18-0 record in conference play and the West Division title.

Going into this season, the SHC volleyball team has been picked to finish second in the seven-team Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) West Division.

Junior Cassidi Sterrett has also been named the preseason Defensive Player of the Year. The 5-foot-7 junior led the SIAC in digs, recording 491 on the season and averaging 4.63 digs per game. She also ranked seventh in service aces, recording 44 on the season.

The Badgers put two players on the preseason all-conference second-team in senior Randi De’Armitt and junior Emmarose Neibert. De’Armitt served up a team-high 65 aces in 2017 with 230 digs, while Neibert issued 636 assists with 19 aces.

Foley wins volleyball award

Foley Sports Tourism (FST) has worked to make Baldwin County a premier sports destination. Those efforts have been recognized by the USA Volleyball Gulf Coast Region with the presentation of the Robert L. Lindsay Meritorious Service Award.

Lindsay was president of USA Volleyball from 1981 to 1984. Prior to his tenure, the U.S. had never medaled in Olympic volleyball. He was instrumental in creating the USA Volleyball National Team Center in California. The work paid off and in 1984 the men’s national volleyball team earned a gold medal and the women took silver at the Los Angeles Olympics.

Coach Phillip Bryant, now in his 22nd year as the Commissioner of the Gulf Coast Region for USA Volleyball, said there are a number of parallels between Lindsay and the city of Foley.

“The partnership with the city of Foley, Foley Sports Tourism and the Foley Event Center allow us as an organization with our home office in Baldwin County the dynamic opportunity to grow,” Bryant said. “It partners our volleyball families with a premier facility and allows us to host larger tournaments, invite more teams and have everyone in one location; older players get a chance to watch younger players and younger players get a chance to watch older players.”

Bryant and 1964 U.S. National Volleyball team member and Olympian Barbara Harwerth presented the award to Foley Mayor John Koniar and the Foley City Council during a council meeting.

“We truly value our relationship,” Foley Director of Sports Tourism David Thompson said of USA Volleyball. “With a home office in south Baldwin County, they understand how things work here and the importance of bringing visitors to our area. We’ve been lucky enough to host eight tournaments with them over the last year and have another 10 on the books for the future. We hope to continue this relationship well into the future.”