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Texas State volleyball players celebrate a 2019 conference win against Louisiana, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, at Strahan Arena.

After five months off, the Bobcat volleyball team hopes to start its 2020 season off right, in pursuit of a third consecutive conference championship.

Texas State volleyball begins the 2020 season with a double-header as part of the Tulane Invitational Sept. 4, first playing Central Arkansas at 10:30 a.m., followed by Stephen F. Austin at 6:30 p.m.

New Head Coach Sean Hueit takes control of the team this season after long-standing Head Coach Karen Chisum retired following the conclusion of last season.

Huiet has been prepping the Bobcats during training after the extended time away and loss of senior star players, including 2019 Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year and Most Outstanding Player Cheyenne Huskey and Defensive Player of the Year Micah Dinwiddie.

In the absence of Huskey and Dinwiddie, the team will have to step up its game. Huiet believes the players are up for the challenge.

“We’re excited to play, we’re ready to get out there,” Huiet said. “The outside [players] have really been challenging each other and kind of accepting the role of, okay, we just lost almost five kills per set, we need to find a way to get those back.”

The Central Arkansas Sugar Bears finished the 2019-2020 season fifth in the conference with a record of 16-14.

Central Arkansas recently hired a new Head Coach John Newberry who served as interim head coach after Jeni Jones Chatman missed most of the season due to her child’s birth. In conference play, the team finished 10-6 but had a rougher go in non-conference play with a record of 6-8.

The teams have met seven times dating back to 2006, with the Bobcats holding a 4-3 advantage.

During Texas State’s second matchup at 6:30 p.m., the team will face off against Stephen F. Austin, a team coming off a stellar campaign last year. The Lumberjacks finished the season with an overall record of 31-2 and 16-0 in conference play. The team received a bid to the NCAA Tournament but fell short in the first round.

The matchup is expected to bode well for both teams getting prepared for their respective seasons. The Bobcats are 11-8 against the Lumberjacks going back to 2006.

With the uncertainty of COVID-19 looming over the upcoming season, the Bobcats have implemented protocols to ensure players can remain safe and stay on the court for as long as possible.

“We are now, since we are in season, getting tested every week,” Huiet said. “We keep saying we’re living in a little bubble; we’re trying to eliminate some of the outside stuff and stay together as much as possible.”

All players and coaches are required to wear masks and get their temperatures checked upon arrival to games. While the team is under close watch to prevent exposure to the virus, Huiet has prepped the team for different lineups if necessary.

“Like I told my freshman, I would be excited about this, my people that have sometimes been bench players or their role has been a little different,” Huiet said. “’We’re going to need all 18 of you to help us do this thing.’”

Junior setter Emily DeWalt says upperclassmen will be crucial in helping the younger ones develop into stronger players.

“People got a lot of experience last year, and I feel like that has helped us, especially in practice this year. Some of us are now upperclassmen, so we take a little bit of the responsibilities away and [teach] the younger ones,” DeWalt said.

DeWalt, who chipped in an impressive 1,196 assists in 2019, finished last season joining Huskey on the All-Sun Belt Conference First Team. Dewalt also won the Sun Belt Conference Setter of the Year Award and landed a spot on the AVCA Southwest All-Region Team.

The team will also play Arkansas State Nov. 6 and Louisiana Oct. 9.

“Arkansas State and Louisiana are two places where we’ve had trouble playing the last two years, and we have to go to both of those places and play them three times at home at their place which will be very challenging,” Huiet said.

The Bobcats split the season series 1-1 with Arkansas State last year, losing 2-3 on Oct. 4 and winning 3-1 on Nov. 9. The Bobcats beat the Cajuns 3-1 on Sept. 27 but lost the second meeting 2-3 on Nov. 3.

Following the games this weekend, the Bobcats will begin conference play Sept. 25. As of now, more games are expected to be added before conference games start.

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