Ole Miss Volleyball wins Magnolia Invitational, Clair named tourney MVP
The last time Ole Miss and Northwestern State played one another was back in 1996 in the Arkansas State Invitational when the Rebels got the best of the Lady Demons, taking them down in three sets.
Both teams met once again in this year’s Magnolia Invitational Championship game and Ole Miss came away with its second-consecutive sweep of NWST. The Rebels have now won the Magnolia Invitational for the eighth time in the last nine years.
Before its match-up against the Lady Demons, Ole Miss had defeated Oral Roberts in three sets on Friday night and Tennessee State in the first of two matches on Saturday afternoon.
The Rebels (3-0) now own a 4-1 record against NWST.
Senior middle blocker Ty Laporte ended the final set with a powerful left-handed kill that found itself in the middle of the floor. Rebel Nation stood up as she made the game-winning play and watched the team celebrate at mid-court.
Ole Miss collected its second-consecutive Magnolia Invitational Championship, then received recognition on the All-Tournament team.
Freshman right side hitter Kathryn Cather and junior setter Aubrey Edie made the All-Tournament team and senior middle blocker Nakeyta Clair took home the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award. For the tournament, the 6-foot-1 Clair recorded 38 kills on a .567 attack percentage to go along with eight blocks.
“I am more comfortable with my play now,” said Clair, who recorded 13 kills against the Lady Demons. “And I know the role I have. I just try to do my best to bring that every game.”
Outside of Clair, there were other Rebels on the floor who had a big impact on the team’s early hot start to the 2015 season. Sophomore outside hitter Kate Gibson recorded 28 kills, sophomore outside hitter Lexi Thompson and Cather had 26 kills and Laporte added 20 kills.
Ole Miss finished the tournament hitting .328 while holding its opponents to .179.
The Rebels defeated NWST (1-2) in the first set 25-19, but in the second set, Ole Miss started to get relaxed, which allowed the Lady Demons to stay within striking distance. Both teams were knotted at 19 apiece until NWST scored three straight kills to take the 22-19 lead.
Junior outside hitter Lauren Agan, an All-Tournament team member, was a key part of the Lady Demons’ run as she notched six kills in the second set.
After a short timeout called by Rebels head coach Steven McRoberts, Clair, an Illinois native, rallied the troops with her tenacity to go after each loose ball on the net. Clair finished off NWST with a power kill to win the second set 25-23. Clair had eight kills before the beginning of the game-deciding set.
“Nakeyta just picked up right where she left off from last season and she’s just that go-to player for us,” McRoberts said. “Anytime we need points, she just seems to find a way to get a big kill for us.”
Three wins in two days puts McRoberts at 499 wins in 19 seasons as a head coach. One more win and he will be in the 500-win club. McRoberts hasn’t thought about it much, but knows it is coming. He mentioned that he doesn’t know how he will react once he gets his 500th win as head coach.
“This season just has been so much fun,” McRoberts said about the early tenure of the 2015-16 season. “Our whole team has just bought into everything that we are asking them to do, so if or when it happens, it’s going to be a joy to do it with this group.”
McRoberts will have a chance for win No. 500 on Tuesday when Ole Miss hosts McNeese State at 11 a.m. and Tennessee-Martin at 7 p.m. Both games will be televised on the SEC Network.