Sophomores will lead No.19 Buccaneers in quest to defend conference title

The Blinn College volleyball team returns three sophomores from its successful 2018 season in which the Buccaneers went undefeated in conference play and captured the Region XIV South Zone championship.

Blinn finished its 2018 campaign ranked No. 17 in the nation with a 29-10 overall record.

After coming on board last year, head coach Terry Gamble returns to lead the Buccaneers. Last season, the conference named Gamble Coach of the Year and he picked up his 900th career win.

Middle blocker Taylor Henderson (Austin) returns after leading the Buccaneers in blocks (116) and block assists (95). She ranked second on the team with 256 kills and recorded a .393 hitting percentage for second-team all-conference honors.

Defensive specialist Chloe Mullins (Tarkington) and outside hitter Rachel Barnett (Lewisville) also return. Last season, Mullins recorded 44 digs in 65 sets, while Barnett totaled 21 kills and six blocks in 13 sets.

"The returning sophomores are going to play big roles for us this season both on the court and by teaching the new girls what my expectations are for the team," Gamble said. "I have very high expectations for the team not only on the court, but in the classroom and how they represent Blinn College."

Middle blocker and McNeese State University transfer Paige Havel (Giddings) and Cisco College transfer Camayra Harris (Houston) will contribute to the Buccaneers this year.

Havel played in 31 matches and 110 sets as a freshman at McNeese. She finished the season third on the team with 199 kills and led the team with 108 block assists and 138 total blocks. Harris, an outside hitter, played in nine sets for Cisco, recording four kills.

"We have a young group this season and Paige transferring in from McNeese is a big addition," Gamble said. "She is someone the team is really going to benefit from like they will from the other sophomores."

Twelve freshmen join the Buccaneers this season, including defensive specialists Brooke Borden (Cypress) and Kya Yanez (Bryan), and defensive specialist and outside hitter Tatum Smidovec (Brenham). Yanez was named Bryan High School's defensive MVP in 2017 and 2018, while Smidovec was named the district's offensive MVP at Brenham High School.

"These three girls are very capable of helping us out on defense," Gamble said. "Our ball control and defense is what is standing out right now, so I am looking forward to the potential of where we can be."

Freshmen Essence Clerkley (Waxahachie), Shyler Mayfield (Giddings), and Autumn Dowell (Temple) can play as outside hitters or middle blockers for Blinn.

Clerkley picked up first-team all-district honors at Waxahachie High School and made the volleyball all-star team in 2019. Mayfield earned first-team all-district honors and is coming off a season in which she was named the district's offensive player of the year. Dowell was named the district's offensive most valuable player in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and the district's most valuable player in 2018 at Temple High School.

Tamia Hall (Atlanta, Ga.), Elizabeth McKenzie (Katy), and Giulia Hortelan (Sao Paulo, Brazil) will contribute to the team's offense as outside hitters.

Hall earned all-state honors at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School in 2019, McKenzie earned all-district honors at Fort Bend Christian Academy in 2019, and Hortelan earned all-region honors at Colegio Marista Nossa Senhora da Gloria.

Setters Julia Benfield (Brenham), Jenni Liu (Moers, Germany), and setter and outside hitter Kaitlyn Pollard (Provo, Utah) also will play an offensive role for the Buccaneers this season.

Benfield earned first-team all-district honors at Brenham High School, Liu played high school volleyball for SIZ Berlin and is committed to the University of Michigan, and Pollard was a Utah 4A state champion at Bountiful High School in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

"We have a lot of offensive talent this season," Gamble said. "Our freshmen are athletic, big, and have the potential. They are a great group of girls who are buying in and I attribute that to the sophomores teaching them."

The Buccaneers are set to start the season on Friday, August 23, at the Midland Tournament. Blinn will take on Western Texas College at 2 p.m. before facing Midland College at 6 p.m.

"We want to play hard every day and represent Blinn with the upmost integrity," Gamble said. "It is an honor to coach and play at Blinn, so we want to represent our program at a high level."

Blinn has competed in intercollegiate athletics since 1903 and captured 41 NJCAA national championships since 1987.