GREENVILLE, N.C. – The August heat and humidity are back in Eastern North Carolina and, after a 2020 that many in our nation and abroad would like to airbrush from history, the East Carolina volleyball team has reported for the 2021 season – a campaign that should look much more traditional.
The Pirates, in Adler Augustin’s first year as head coach, competed in just 12 matches in the spring of 2021 after the 2020 season was pushed back due to the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic. ECU grabbed four victories, including its first win over North Carolina since 1978. The Pirates also handed eventual league champion UCF its only set loss in league play.
East Carolina returns several key contributors from that shortened spring season, including a pair of super seniors in outside hitter Sydney Kleinman and right side Bri Wood. Both are back for one final year after pacing the squad in kills and kills per set. The duo combined for 309 kills 250 digs as six-rotation players.
Wood captured All-American Athletic Conference First Team accolades and is a strong candidate to land a spot on the league’s preseason all-conference team. She also is on the brink of becoming the sixth player in school history to notch 1,000 kills and digs. Additionally, Kleinman is just 259 kills away from 1,000 in a Pirate uniform.
Fourth-year senior outside hitter Natalie Tyson was the third-leading scorer for ECU just a few months ago and was one of five Pirates to play in all 47 sets. She tallied 119.5 points on the strength of 105 kills (2.23 per set) while finishing the season with four double-doubles. Classmate and setter Janiece Jefferies is back in fold as well and will continue to vie for a spot in the starting lineup. She was tabbed the AAC Defensive Player of the Week March 22 after producing career highs in assists (29) and digs (25) in a five-set win over Davidson.
The newest crop of Pirates to call Greenville home is a big one with 11 newcomers set to don the Purple and Gold for the first time in 2021. Kianie Cummings, a 6-4 middle blocker who played for Florida SouthWestern State in 2019, is the lone transfer in the group. She helped the Buccaneers to 16 wins and a fourth-place finish at the FCSAA State Tournament during the program’s inaugural season. East Carolina has added some height into the mix with its 10-member freshman class, including 6-5 middle blocker Amelia Davis (Denver, Colo.) and 6-3 right side Sophia Kruczko (Cary, N.C.).
The back row spots are up for grabs with a promising crew of underclassmen ready to make their marks. Sophomore Sariah Schulteis played in eight matches during the spring while freshmen Tia Shum (London, Ontario), Anaiah Jones (Charlotte, N.C.) and Alex Singleton (Spring, Texas) will provide some options defensively. East Carolina also welcomes an exciting duo of freshmen setters in Payton Evenstad (Fairibault, Minn.) and Kenzie Beckham (Austin, Texas).
Returning to a more familiar scheduling format, ECU will host 13 matches inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum as part of its 2021 fall competition slate. The Pirates will face off against Atlantic Coast Conference members North Carolina and NC State, as well as regional opponents Coastal Carolina, UNCW and Appalachian State, during non-conference action before delving into American Athletic Conference play with a double round-robin schedule. The league’s regular-season champion will earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.
With capacity limits inside Minges Coliseum expected to return to 100 percent this fall, admission to home matches will again be free of charge.
East Carolina won’t have to wait long to test its mettle against outside competition. The Pirates head to the Triad Aug. 20 for an exhibition match at UNC Greensboro.