Great Expectations: Volleyball Coach Counting on Producing Excitement, Fans
By Tim Turner
hen Casey Cornett talks about expectations for her inaugural Columbus State women's volleyball team, the coach's eyes dance with excitement.
She says they're going to be good, they're going to shock Peach Belt Conference opponents, and they're going to thrill spectators with signature "kill" shots that will keep fans coming back for more.
"I may be biased, but there is nothing more exciting than when a girl goes up and cranks on the ball, and just kills on the other side," Cornett said. "Or when a girl goes up and she hits the ball so hard that the defense can't get out of the way and it hits a girl on the shoulder or even on the head."
That's aggressive. That's powerful. And, for Cornett, that's the kind of play she hopes will produce victories and draw crowds to the Lumpkin Center this fall as CSU resurrects women's volleyball after a 31-year absence.
From 1966-1982, Columbus College's volleyball team, coached solely by Mary V. Blackmon, won more than 200 games, including an 11-0 mark in 1977 — the first-ever perfect record in the history of the Georgia Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.
"There are obviously differences from then and now," said Blackmon, now retired and living in Columbus. "It's exciting to see the contrast. I think they made a good choice (hiring Cornett). She's very enthusiastic and a hard worker. I think (re-starting the program) is a very good thing."
What is CSU going to do for its long-awaited encore? If Cornett, a former assistant at UNC-Charlotte, has her way, she'll launch a program that immediately will have people talking about Columbus State.
"I don't want confidence to be confused with cocky," Cornett said. "But I want to be among the top three in the conference. I want to shock people who did not expect us to be this good. I want it to be where they say, 'Where did Columbus State come from? They're not supposed to be this good.'"
Cornett, hired in mid-2012, was unfazed by the prospect of rebuilding a program after three years as
an assistant coach. Relying on the advice of mentors with similar experiences, she’s signed 16 players, constructing a roster designed for long-range success, with three juniors, four sophomores and nine freshmen.
“I’d have all gray hair by the end of the season,” Cor-nett said of the prospect of an all-freshman squad. “If you recruited all freshmen, you’d have people who never had the opportunity to be away from mom and dad, and trying to do academics and social life. You have to have some experience.”
Some of the players she recruited from other colleges liked the idea of joining a program that was just getting started.
“They could have gone to more renowned schools but chose us because it was a brand new program,” she said. “The girls are extremely talented and deserve to be here.”
Big is the operative word when describing players on Cornett’s first team. She says they will have size and power, playing a brand of volleyball that will grow on fans.
“We’re going to have a very tall team,” Cornett said. “Got a 6-3 girl, a 6-2 girl. When they walk around campus, you’re not going to be able to miss them. Even Jonathan (Norton, CSU’s women’s basketball coach) asks about them. One of my girls (Mary McCarty, a graduate of Columbus’ Calvary Christian School) plays for him, in fact.”
Cornett hopes to surprise — perhaps even shock — some spectators with the aggressive nature of her team’s play.
“You’re going to see some powerful girls just annihilating the volleyball,” she said. “They’re going to go up, and you will never see a girl hit a volleyball that hard. I think they’ll also see them hitting the floor, rolling out of dives.
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Photo captions (from top):
Recruits (from left) Mary McCarty, McKenzie Bragg and Kierston Smith are ready to start the season. (Photos by Tamma Smith)
McKenzie Bragg practices spiking in a solo practice.
Mary McCarty, Caytlin Merritt and Kierston Smith.