Phillips steers GSU volleyball to smooth waters following volatile off-season

GSU coach Paige Phillips has the Lady Tigers undefeated in SWAC play heading into today’s SWAC Roundup. (photo courtesy of GSU Athletics)

By T. Scott Boatright

What was a turbulent offseason for the Grambling State volleyball team has become a pleasant turnaround in Tigerland.

The Lady Tigers,  7-7 overall and 4-0 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, look to continue their attention-grabbing start when they play in the SWAC Showdown starting today at Alabama A&M.

Grambling will play Florida A&M at 11 a.m. before taking on Alabama State at 7 p.m. The Lady Tigers will wrap up the conference mid-season tourney at 11 a.m. Monday against Mississippi Valley State.

The off-season began with GSU hiring a new volleyball coach, Chelsey Lucas. Soon after being hired Lucas cut nearly the entire team and moved to build a new one.

But then Lucas was fired July 5 after an internal investigation by the university.

On Aug. 9 GSU named former North Carolina Central assistant coach Paige Phillips as head coach.

The season started only three weeks later. Yet Phillips now has her Lady Tigers undefeated in conference action and starting to gain more and more notice.

“When I first got here I didn’t know anyone on the team until Aug. 9, and our first practice was Aug. 10,,” Phillips admitted. “It’s my first time in the SWAC, so I was also trying to get a hold of where the conference was talent-wise and what we would need to compete.

“So  I didn’t really expect this because I didn’t know what to expect, especially considering the circumstances. Grambling hasn’t had a winning season for a while. So I didn’t know what I was walking into. But honestly, after our first matches at a tournament in Southern Illinois, I could see we have tons of potential especially to win this conference.”

Phillips said her early practices with the Lady Tigers were relationship-building exercises as much as anything else.

“We had some team-bonding events, but we just really didn’t have that much time the way it all worked out,” Phillips said. “As the season has progressed, that closeness and those feelings have definitely grown a lot. Them getting to know me and trust me definitely took some time.”

Phillips said it wasn’t only getting her team to buy into her methodology. It was also getting them to buy into themselves.

“A lot of it, coming in, was just getting them to believe they’re good enough,” Phillips said. “Watch them individually and you’ll see they’re great. But it’s coming together as a team that makes them so special. It was that relationship-building that we especially had to work on that has helped make all of this happen.”

The Lady Tigers have a solid corps of leaders on the team – the X-Factor is sophomore Jayden James, a transfer from the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

James is a three-time SWAC Volleyball Player of the Week so far this season who leads the Lady Tigers in almost every statistical category.

“She’s a little young, so we definitely have some older team leaders, but Jayden has definitely stepped up her leadership just by the way she plays,” Phillips said.

“It’s very rare and I’m very thankful that we do have her. I think the other players watch her and want to play like her. That’s the way she’s really provided a spark — not only with her play but making the others around better, too.”

Phillips hopes that spark continues at the SWAC Roundup.

“We’re only getting started,” Phillips said. “We’re excited to see what we can do. We’re excited to play a team like Florida A&M that has been a volleyball power for a while now. We’re excited to keep this start going and just keep getting better and better.”


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