The East Carolina University volleyball team hosted Southern Methodist University, the defending American Athletic Conference champions, taking them to five sets before being narrowly defeated.

East Carolina University athletics has been under heavy scrutiny by fans all across Pirate Nation in recent weeks. With all of the controversy surrounding ECU’s Athletic Director Jeff Compher, the “Fire Compher! Go Pirates!” sign, volleyball looks to give the Pirate fan base hope during the football team's struggles to win games.

Coming off of a disappointing season in 2016, the football program has seemingly taken an entire step back in 2017. The men’s basketball program has widely been viewed as mediocre by ECU fans for years. Even the baseball program, which entered last season ranked third in the NCAA baseball preseason rankings, did not live up to the high expectations.

Despite all of the struggles on the field for many of ECU’s teams, a fresh, exciting season from ECU volleyball should give some hope to ECU sports fans everywhere. The Pirates have a core of both seniors, as well as young freshmen and sophomores that shows this success likely won’t end anytime soon.

Seniors Lael Ceriani, Alex Jessett, Natalie Montini, Ashton Mares and Megan Williams have taken their experience on the court and translated it to success within their younger players.

Ceriani leads the team in kills with 251 so far this season, and freshman right side Bri Wood is not too far behind with 219, an incredible number thus far in the season for a player with such little experience. Along with Wood, the Pirates have plenty of young talent that should keep the Pirates a factor for a few years to come.

The Pirates are led defensively by sophomore libero Brandee Markwith, who set the all-time ECU record for digs in a game with 40 against Gardner-Webb University on Sept. 8. They also have key contributions from other young starters such as freshman setter Shelby Martin, who is currently fifth in the American Athletic Conference in total assists with 663 on the season, as well as sophomore middle hitter Toya Osuegbu, who is eighth in the AAC in blocks per set at 1.04. With so many contributions coming from players so early on in their careers, ECU is set to be an exciting team to watch for the foreseeable future.

While many didn’t give head coach Julie Torbett’s team much of a chance this season, her team has stayed focused on its goals of rising up the ranks in the AAC. It's exciting to see the passion this year’s team has played with. The entire team, whether on the court or on the bench, jumps and dances in excitement on every big kill or block, showing just how unselfish this year’s team really is. The dynamic of this team has changed and ECU volleyball games are as exciting as ever.

While ECU is understandably frustrated with the state of the athletic department, it’s time to acknowledge the success of ECU volleyball. With ECU (14-6, 6-2 AAC) coming off a 2016 season where it went 10-0 outside of the AAC, and 15-15 total for its first season at .500 in 10 years, ECU has taken yet another step forward, having success in the AAC. The Pirates only have two losses in conference this season (out of eight tries) and have lost just six matches during the entire season.

ECU defeated USF on the road for the first time since 2004 and defeated Temple for the first time ever in the program’s history. The program is on the rise, and it’s time for the Greenville community to take notice.

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