The Southern Utah University volleyball team exceeded expectations in 2022 with an eighth place finish in the Western Athletic Conference. They have qualified for a spot in the WAC postseason tournament after missing the Big Sky Conference tournament in 2021.
The season started off slow for the Thunderbirds. Their first win did not come until their ninth game, when they beat Idaho State University on Sep. 17. Conference play began right after on Sep. 22, and they started to find more success. In their seven wins, six came against conference opponents, including three sweeps. This was a huge improvement after coming off a season with only two conference wins in the Big Sky.
The team welcomed two key transfers. Juniors Makenzie Templeton from Central Wyoming College and Macy Short from Snow College were both impact players for Southern Utah this year.
Templeton led the team in kills with 261 total and 2.97 per set. Raegen Beeson was a distant second with 190 kills, still enough for a career high for the middle blocker. Beeson led the Thunderbirds in hitting percentage with .295, ranking her 10th in the WAC. Short, the team’s primary setter, led the team and ranked fifth in WAC in assists with 744, averaging 8.36 per set.
On the defensive side, libero Sarah Gasper had the team’s best of 232 digs, followed closely by Short, who had 225. Carissa Richie and Beeson were the stars of the show when it came to blocks, both matching their career highs in solo blocks in a season with 18 and 25, respectively. Other notable players include Molly McDermott and Rylee Achtzehn, who each scored over 150 total points throughout the season.
Four players were recognized on senior night. SUU said farewell to seniors Andreanna McKee, Ronnie Robinson, Beeson and Gasper. Beeson spent all four years of her collegiate career with the Thunderbirds, helping the team reach three conference tournaments. The 6’3” senior from Payson, Arizona, amassed over 500 kills during her time at SUU. McKee, the team’s sole graduate student, went to Snow College out of high school and transferred to SUU leading up to the 2020-21 season. She played two seasons with the Badgers and three with the Thunderbirds. As an outside hitter, she had 305 kills in her time at SUU. Robinson, also an outside hitter, came to SUU after one season with Saddleback College in California. In 221 sets as a Thunderbird, she collected 213 kills and 367 digs. Gasper stayed loyal to SUU in all four years of her collegiate playing time, during which she contributed 139 assists and 755 digs.
Head coach Kacey Nady and assistant coach Berkeley Oblad guided the Thunderbirds through their success this season. A former Oregon Duck, Nady played four years of indoor volleyball in college and made it to the NCAA tournament all four years. 2022 was her second season as the head coach at SUU, but she started her college coaching career in 2019 with the University of San Francisco. Oblad was added to the SUU coaching staff by Nady prior to this season. Oblad was an outstanding player for the University of Utah for four years before going on to play three seasons professionally: one in Hungary, one in France and one in Taiwan.
As the eighth seed, SUU will play the best team in the conference for the first round of the tournament: the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The game will be on Thursday, Nov. 17, at 6 p.m. MST. The WAC tournament will be held in the UTRGV Fieldhouse and will continue through Nov. 19. The winner will automatically advance to the NCAA tournament. All games can be streamed on ESPN+.
Story and Photos by: Anden Garfield