West Virginia volleyball is in the midst of arguably its best season of Coach Reed Sunahara’s tenure — and with seven conference wins, it is likely the best they’ve played since joining the Big 12 in 2012.
Sunahara has been involved in college volleyball since he played for UCLA in the eighties. He’s coached in the Big 12, the Big East, the Pac 12, the MAC and at the international level — so he knows what it takes to make a volleyball team successful.
It starts, he says, with getting good players who want to play for his team.
“That’s the most important thing, I think,” he said. “I also think that they have to believe in what we’re doing.”
This year’s roster appears to be comprised of just that — solid players that are believers in the Mountaineer program. It starts with junior setter and captain Lacey Zerwas, who leads the team with 498 assists in 12 matches — the second-highest total in the Big 12 and the third-highest average per set.
Redshirt senior middle blocker Audrey Adams has emerged as another leader on the court as a dependable two-way player for the Mountaineers. She has chipped in 144 points and 54 blocks so far this year.
But while their performance on the court has stood out, what they’ve done in the locker room has really given their squad a boost towards success.
“Lacey and Audrey have done a really good job of leading this team from a leadership standpoint, and also from a performance standpoint too,” he said. “We also have more of the right pieces that we needed….This year, we have some experience and the pieces that we needed that helped us win the games that we’ve won so far.”
The bulk of WVU’s scoring has come from the heavy-hitting duo of Briana Lynch and Natali Petrova, the latter of whom is in her first season in Morgantown. Lynch and Petrova combine for 319 points this year and have been integral in fighting for their seven victories.
Getting a lot of those wins has been a grind, but it’s been far from impossible. The Mountaineers took a pair of tough losses on the road against second-ranked Baylor in October, but that came after a road sweep of No. 10 Kansas which put them in the national rankings for the first time in program history.
On Wednesday, the Mountaineers were announced back in the rankings — just a day before a two-day date with Texas, who was ranked at the top of the same poll. Such is life in the Big 12, which is perennially one of the best conferences in college volleyball.
“It’s a challenge every year and every night,” he said. “But if you want to be one of the best teams, you’ve got to play the best. That’s my philosophy.”
Sitting at fourth in the Big 12 and one game out of third, the Mountaineers have a real shot at finishing in their highest position since entering the league. Of course, they’ll likely have to take down the top team in the country to make an upward move.
Sunahara thinks that’s more than possible, though, especially because he believes his players.
“I like the fact that they work hard, I like the fact that they’re committed here, and they’re a competitive group,” Sunahara said.