Lanesha Reagan was a freshman in 2014, the last time the Oregon State volleyball team reached the NCAA tournament.
She didn’t play that season, but Reagan saw the upperclassmen on that squad push themselves to the program’s third-ever NCAA tournament berth and first trip to the Sweet 16.
Although it’s mostly a different group, the Beavers are trying to recreate the way the 2014 squad built its season.
“We definitely try to imitate the work ethic that they had and the drive that they had and holding every person on the team accountable, because the seniors my freshman year definitely did that,” said Reagan, now a senior outside hitter. “We’re trying to play that into this season.”
The Beavers will chase their NCAA goals with solid depth, 10 returning letterwinners plus a nationally ranked recruiting class and a focus on team chemistry and values.
They’ll also do it with All-American outside hitter Mary-Kate Marshall, a senior already in the program’s top five in kills and attacks and sixth in total points.
Marshall led the team in kills, service aces and digs in 2016, when OSU was 12-19 overall and 5-15 in Pac-12 Conference play.
Beavers coach Mark Barnard said his team doesn’t have the same depth in numbers as last fall but that the quality of that depth is stronger. He believes that depth will help make Marshall more of an offensive weapon.
“I think we’re going to have a little more support around her and take a little bit of the pressure off her,” said Barnard, in his second year as head coach after 11 seasons as an assistant under Taras Liskevych.
Barnard says he has at least two and in some positions three players that he feels comfortable putting on the court. The freshman class, led by setter Kylee McLaughlin and outside hitter Maddie Goings, is pushing the veterans to play harder.
“That makes a competitive practice environment, but it also makes a difficult environment at the other end where people don’t have their expectations of starting,” Barnard said.
Goings and McLaughlin are expected to be key pieces for the Beavers, who open the regular season Friday morning against Idaho as part of the Beaver State Classic tournament at Gill Coliseum.
Both are from the same club program in Texas that produced Marshall. Barnard says Marshall’s success at Oregon State has opened doors for the Beavers in Texas.
McLaughlin was part of two highly successful club teams, which have prepared her for the competition level in the Pac-12, Barnard said. The coach added that some might consider Goings — at 5-foot-9 — undersized to play in the conference, but he says she belongs.
Marshall, Reagan, junior outside hitter/setter McKenna Hollingsworth and junior Kayla Ellis played in all 31 of the team’s matches last season. Junior outside hitter Kory Cheshire and sophomore middle blocker Serena Bruin were also key contributors.
The roster also includes two area high school graduates. Junior middle blocker Maddy Gravley (Santiam Christian) played in 11 matches in 2016, starting five. Redshirt freshman outside hitter/right side Haylie Bennett (Philomath) was praised for her play in last Friday’s intrasquad scrimmage.
After this weekend’s tournament at Gill, the Beavers play all 13 of their September matches on the road. They open Pac-12 play Sept. 19 at Oregon, the first of four straight conference matches away from home.
Oregon State started focusing on a return to the postseason not long after its season-ending loss to the Ducks last fall.
“We’re like ‘OK, new year, we’re starting right now, we’re going to the NCAA tournament next season,’” Marshall said.
They didn’t want the same feeling of having their season end and worked hard throughout the offseason, notably in the summer, in order to have a different result this time around.
With that in mind, OSU has put an emphasis on team bonding more than in the past.
A weekend trip to Bend gave the team time away from volleyball. The players have worked on being able to talk about conflict and said they have seen chemistry build on the court because of it.
“I think everyone’s been really more on board than before and now it’s like playing with your friends again,” Reagan said.
Barnard said he’s starting to see similar personalities and determination that he saw in 2014. Players have told the coach they want to do more and come in before practices as they try to improve.
“We’re generating a culture of players that want to work very hard,” Barnard said.