Aug. 30—JACKSONVILLE — So, on a scale of 1 to 10, how exciting was it for Jacksonville State to sweep Big Ten Conference foe Indiana on their own court this weekend?
"I would say 12," JSU senior Erin Carmichael said with a big smile.
Who can blame her?
This win was special for at least a few reasons:
—It topped an undefeated opening weekend at the Indiana University Classic in which JSU beat Chicago State 25-15, 26-24, 25-17, Indiana State 25-13, 26-24, 25-11, and Indiana 25-21, 26-24, 25-16.
—It marked a successful homecoming for three JSU players from Indiana: defensive specialist Brooklyn Schiffli of Indianapolis, outside hitter Courtney Glotzbach of New Albany, and libero Carmichael of Avon. All three played in every set of the Classic.
—This goes down as JSU's first win over a school from a Power Five conference since the Gamecocks won in five sets at Tennessee in 2013.
"I know that leading up to going to IU, we were focused in every practice, even the warmups and stuff like that," Carmichael said. "Because three people are from Indiana, beating them was super fun. With all of our family and friends there, it was super exciting."
Against Indiana, it wasn't just a win — JSU kept control the whole way. The Gamecocks trailed only once, when IU led 2-1 in the first set. The only hiccup came in the second set when JSU led 24-20 but couldn't close it out right away. The Hoosiers won four straight points before making a service error to give JSU a 25-24 advantage. Carmichael then served the winning point, which Lena Kindermann put away with a kill.
"It was a great way to come out and start our season," setter Claire Ochs said. "I think we were really excited for the opening weekend, just to show everyone what we could do and what we're made of. Excited for that win and excited to continue with that momentum."
The Gamecocks have experienced an upswing after Todd Garvey took over the program in 2019. In the last three seasons, they've won two conference titles and finished second to ASUN powerhouse Florida Gulf Coast last year. The 3-0 start this year gives JSU 49 wins in their last 59 matches.
But, the Gamecocks are going through a bit of a transition. They returned eight veterans from a year ago, but they're joined by nine newcomers, including five freshmen and four transfers. Of the newcomers, four played in at least one set this past weekend.
Garvey has paid special attention to making sure the new players and returnees mesh together, especially with only two weeks of preseason practice before the team headed to Indiana.
"Nine new players is the most we've ever had," he said. "So we've spent a little bit more time on everybody getting to know each other, doing stuff off the court. Trying to bond as a team on and off the court.
"It's hard to get nine new players to mesh with seven returners in two weeks before we play, so we definitely have been spending a lot of time on and off the court together, teaching them our systems on the court and teaching them what our culture is like off the court."
To help the players get to know each other, Garvey said the team enjoyed a day at the lake recently, with personal watercraft, rock climbing, paddleboards and other activities. In addition, it isn't unusual for him to spend a few minutes in the locker room before practice with a short talk or a little exercise to let the players get to know each other and understand the culture Garvey has cultivated at JSU.
So, do things like that really help win matches? The Gamecocks aren't discounting it.
"I think our team chemistry has been the backbone of us in these games," said Ochs, who transferred to JSU in the spring after four seasons at Southeast Missouri. "We've only been practicing for two weeks, and there are a lot of new people. But, I think we've all bonded really quickly. We all have each other's backs, and I think that's the main thing that's going to push us forward."
Next up is another road weekend with three matches in two days. The Gamecocks will play in Clemson Invitational in Clemson, S.C., and will face The Citadel on Friday at 9:30 a.m., Clemson on Friday at 6 p.m. and Gardner Webb on Saturday at 10:30 a.m.
"Every year, we've taken another step, and it was awesome to see all their hard work pay off this weekend," Garvey said. "We still have a lot of big goals ahead of us. We can't get too proud of ourselves, because we've got a lot more that we're trying to accomplish, but that was an awesome stepping stone, and it was so fun to see them get a reward like that for all their hard work the past couple of years."
Senior Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.