HARRIMAN, Tenn. – After a five month delay due to COVID-19, Roane State’s newest athletics program – women’s volleyball – was finally able to get underway. The first match was the Raiders hosting conference rival Walters State Community College on Feb. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the Roane State gymnasium. They lost that match 3 sets to 1.
The new program was originally approved by Roane State President Dr. Chris Whaley and Athletics Director Randy Nesbit in Sept. 2019. The season was slated to begin in Aug. 2020, however, COVID-19 caused a shut-down of all athletic competitions throughout the NJCAA. That restriction that was finally lifted earlier this month.
Shortly after the program was approved by the college, Nesbit hired veteran volleyball coach Steve Dallman who has extensive experience in the NCAA, with club teams and the U.S. Olympic team. Once on board, Dallman quickly began to build a program from scratch. In his words, “We had no nets, no people, no anything.”
After taking care of the physical aspects of the program, the veteran coach got started on recruiting. He will begin the season with a roster of 13 players, which includes three sophomores and 10 freshmen.
While the world was in the midst of a pandemic, the volleyball team began preparation for its inaugural season in July 2020. It was during those practices and weight training sessions that the NJCAA opted to delay the season from Fall 2020 to Winter 2021. Subsequently, the TCCAA later released a truncated schedule for the league.
Last fall, the team held scrimmages against Cleveland State, Bryan College JV and Johnson University. The scrimmages, according to Dallman, “went really well and we did a lot better than anyone expected us to do.”
After a short break in Dec. 2020, Dallman says, “We’re back full tilt getting ready for our season and I think the kids are really ready to play.”
For the 2020-21 season, the Roane State volleyballers will be playing a truncated schedule with three matches each against TCCAA Eastern Division teams Walters State, Cleveland State and Chattanooga State. District and region tournaments will be played in late March and early April.
Dallman says the shorter schedule may be a good thing. “I think we weren’t quite ready to play in the fall because we were still learning to play together.”
“I kind of prepared them mentally and physically… because we’re in for a long season. It’s almost a year straight,” Dallman added.
Opening the season against conference favorite and a perennially nationally-ranked Walters State team is a tall order for the Raiders. Dallman says, “That will be a good measuring stick for us to get to where we want to be.”
Dallman is also preparing his squad for the start of the next season, which will begin this fall. The veteran head coach notes, “We probably have the longest season of anybody because we’re right back at it in the fall if everything goes right.”
Players to keep an eye on this year include Sydney Smith, Lindsay Sterchi and Abbie Stinnet.
Smith moved to East Tennessee a little over a year ago from Michigan, where she had helped her team win a state championship. In her senior year at Loudon High School, she helped lead the team to their first-ever district competition.
At 5’10” tall, the left-hander is an extremely hard hitter with a lot of volleyball knowledge and can play the hitter position from both the left and right sides.
Sterchi, who played for Dallman in club ball in the past, transferred to Roane State from Kentucky’s Berea University. She is a setter with a lot of experience who also does a great job running the Raider’s 6-2 offense.
The six-footer Stinnett, who transferred from Cleveland State Community College, was one of the Cougar’s best outside hitters last year. For the Raiders, she will be playing the middle hitter position in 2021.
As no NJCAA athletes are being charged with a year of eligibility in 2021, Stinnett, a sophomore, has already elected to return to Roane State next season.
With a smaller-than-usual slate of matches, the team will only play 12 times, all against TCCAA Eastern Division opponents, with each opponent being played three times. Doing the math, that’s six matches at home and six away. Any open dates could be filled with non-conference opponents, but any potential challengers would have to adhere to stringent COVID testing protocols established by the TCCAA. Travel this year is also limited to a maximum of four hours with no overnight stays.
Academically, seven Raiders volleyballers made the Dean’s List for Fall 2020. Dallman says he’s really proud of the fact that the players are “taking their academics seriously.”
He also noted in regard to the changes the world has endured in 2020, “At least the kids are getting to play. And that’s – for all of the sports – a blessing that we’re even getting to play.”