The Coppin State Lady Eagles have gone through their best season in the history of the program this season with a 13-15 overall record and finished second in the MEAC Northern Division with an 8-4 mark. They broke team records in several categories this season.
The Lady Eagles broke their own program record in overall wins at 13; conference wins with eight and longest winning streak with six. It is also the first time that CSU has beaten every MEAC North opponent at least once since divisions were established.
The Lady Eagles have had back-to-back record-breaking seasons under head coach Ashley Preston. Preston loves to be challenged and bringing Coppin to respectability in the volleyball arena has been an ultimate challenge that she seems to be getting done almost at will.
The keys, according to Preston were, “Our goals were just really to not just be talented, but work hard and be smart volleyball players. So I made sure that we really focused on understanding the game and learning from last year. So, I always knew that I had the talent, but it was just getting the talent together. Managing them and making sure that they understood their role on the team so that they knew what was expected of them and what they had to do in order to be successful.”
Coppin State has gone through one of their most challenging non-conference seasons ever which featured a trip to Seattle to take on the #3 ranked Washington Huskies from the Pacific-12 conference. A trip like that benefited Preston and her young ladies in a great way.
Preston stated, “It helped us in conference to play tougher when we need to because you need experience and you need to be able to play teams at the highest level. You can’t get any higher than third in the nation. I felt like it was a good learning experience for my kids so they know that they could strive for better than what they just saw.”
The Lady Eagles were thoroughly challenged in the MEAC in an always-tough Northern Division. Through the fires, Coppin found their mettle and were able to learn a few tough lessons along the way.
Preston stated, “The catalyst was the loss to Morgan State (3-2 loss @ Hill Field House on October 20) because that put us in a position to where we may not have made it to the MEAC Tournament. The girls were really sad, upset, mad and angry. But to see the fight in them to be the first team to defeat Hampton and then get in to defeat Norfolk State and now have an eight-game winning streak at home has just really shown that the girls really, really, really want this and they really going to fight and they aren’t going to give up until they win. I think that was the turning point in our season.”
Turning to the MEAC Tournament itself, The Lady Eagles face the #3 Southern Division seed Bethune-Cookman Wildcats tonight at 7 pm. Ironically, the last time these teams met in a MEAC postseason setting was in November 13, 1998 when the Wildcats swept Coppin at Morgan State’s Hill Field House 15-1, 15-5, 15-3. But the last win for the Lady Eagles in the MEAC Tournament was on November 6, 1992 when Coppin State swept Bethune-Cookman 15-9, 15-4, 15-8 at the Coppin Center.
CSU junior libero Gabrielle Otero made the All-MEAC first team while sophomore middle blocker Kandace Thomas made All-MEAC second team and sophomore outside hitter Cindy Okpegbue made All-MEAC third team.
Preston said about her players, “For me, I really truly believe we have two of the best middles in the conference. I always say this, but she’ll never believe me when I say it. But I truly believe that I have the best libero (Gabrielle Otero) in the conference. So for those two parts, it’s amazing. It’s really about getting our hitters more consistent. Cindy [Okpegbue] is a power hitter 100%, but she also knows she needs to throw in some extra shots here and there to mix it up. But if we have solid hitting and passing, we’ll be successful.”
Coach Preston said about the Wildcats, “They’re a very scrappy team. So we need to make sure that we are a smarter team. It’s not about how hard we hit the ball, but where we hit the ball.”
To win the MEAC title, Coach Preston says the key is in how they pass and serve. If the Lady Eagles can handle their business in those two departments, Preston mentions that everything else will fall where it may.
Preston also mentioned about going for the MEAC title, “I keep emphasizing to them that we have the opportunity to achieve something that’s never been done and they’ve really taken heed to that and they want it for the people who supported us from day one. They want it for the university as well. So they’re just really hungry for it and you can see that they want to win and they’re playing with more urgency they understand that this is so close and they’re able to attain it.”