This semester, volleyball returned in full force at John Brown University with the Golden Eagles, led by head coach Ken Carver, bringing in a lot of youth to the table after graduating much of the older talent from last season’s team. Regardless, the JBU campus still held high hopes for the program, and these were hopes and expectations that the Golden Eagles were able to meet.
The Golden Eagles had a team dynamic that stayed strong throughout the regular season, with a good mix of experience and younger talent stepping up to the plate and delivering in big ways. The Golden Eagles rolled to a 11-3 regular season record (7-3 in conference play), which included a five-match winning streak consisting entirely of sweeps that lasted for more than two weeks. In JBU’s first five home matches within the friendly confines of Bill George Arena, the Golden Eagles only dropped one set and had a lot of momentum going into their final two conference games of the regular season.
The winning streak was snapped on Friday, April 2, when the SAGU Lions defeated the Golden Eagles in five sets. It not only snapped their five-match winning streak overall, but it also snapped their fifteen-match winning streak at home. Coach Carver and Co. were able to bounce back in a big way the very next day against the Texas Wesleyan Rams, the second-ranked team in the conference, defeating them in four sets to clinch a home quarterfinal match against SAGU.
The Golden Eagles came in hungry to make the conference semifinals for the fifth time under Coach Carver, but SAGU was able to quickly establish themselves as a threat, making a late run in the first set (which JBU ultimately won, 25-23) before winning out by taking the next three sets and the win for the match. With the win, SAGU completed the season sweep against JBU, extending their all-time winning streak against the Golden Eagles to three, matching a program high. It punched their ticket to Oklahoma City for a semifinal match with the Oklahoma City Stars, the top-ranked team in the conference, while putting an end to JBU’s strong season. With the loss, JBU ends the season with an 11-4 record, presenting the third-highest winning percentage (.733) for a Carver-led team at JBU. It also marks the third time that the Golden Eagles have failed to make it out of the SAC Quarterfinals in the Carver era.
Despite the result, there is still a lot of hope for the future for the John Brown Golden Eagles, with the vast majority of the team returning. This season’s roster only had two seniors, Jaden Williams and Taylor Glover, and, with the way players like Savanna Riney, Micah Fouts and Delaney Barnes were able to step up as freshmen, in addition to the breakout seasons from sophomores Jillian Blackman and Ellie Lampton, there’s a good chance that the Golden Eagles are primed for deeper runs in the conference tournament in the coming seasons.
Speaking on the loss, Carver said, “This will sting for a little while, and it’s okay. They put a lot of their heart and soul and passion on the line, and we’ll work on getting better here through the remainder of the spring and the summer and work on coming out and putting a good team out on the floor in the fall of 2021.”
Meanwhile, the junior varsity program, led by Steve Brankle, finished off its season on March 30 with a win on the road against Ozark Christian. They finished off the season with a 7-3 record. After losing their first two matches, they were able to put together a month’s worth of quality matches, losing only one throughout the entirety of March. Their four-set win against Ozark Christian ended what was a very successful first season for the program under Brankle, who is impressed with his team’s growth and the way they fought through the adversity that the COVID-shortened season brought their way.
“The team grew so much. We had 14 girls that all but two had never played together, and they all came from different skill levels and levels of play. In the end, we matured and grew together and became a team,” Brankle said, adding that, “I’m looking to build on what we learned in the past month of competition. We are talking about what we did well and what we need to improve on as a team and as individuals.” With the level of success the team had, Brankle is looking to press harder next season, saying that, “I honestly expect them each to come into the fall in the best shape of their lives. I am wanting a harder schedule next year and want them and the new recruits to be ready to step up as a team,” adding that, “I believe we have built the foundation we need and now need to strive to be even better. This is a great group, and I know they will meet this challenge.”
Photo courtesy of Karen Penner