NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Jewell Dobson was relaxing in her dorm room when teammates Lauren Ford and Megan Stout burst in shouting the big news that she was the Atlantic Sun Volleyball “Player of the Year”.
Dobson was pleasantly surprised to hear the news.
“I think she is truly humbled by this and really taken aback,” Lipscomb coach Brandon Rosenthal said. “I reminded her that the other coaches voted for her. I would have voted for her but the rules won’t let me.
“This is something we talked about privately a long time ago. We wanted to give her the opportunity to realize what level of player we are talking about for her. I am extremely proud of her.”
Dobson, a junior middle blocker from Shepherdsville, Ky., became the fourth player in the history of the Lipscomb program to win the award. She follows in the footsteps of Alex Kelly, a two-time winner in 2008 and 2009; Stefine “Jake” Pease in 2010 and Katie Rose in 2011.
“Jewell told me this was overwhelming for her,” Rosenthal said. “It was neat that she referenced these other people within the program. It is a credit for what this program has become, not just team-wise and terms of team accomplishments, but individual accomplishments as well.”
Her place in the history of the program has not been lost on Dobson. In fact, when she called her parents to share the news one of the first things she told them was that the honor places her among the top volleyball players to ever wear a Lady Bisons uniform.
“The first thing she said to me was that she couldn’t have done it without her teammates,” Rosenthal said. “This puts it at a different level for her. Jewell had an exceptionally wonderful season and I think the coaches in the conference recognized that.
“She has earned it. She has worked extremely hard. When you look at her numbers she has put up this year she is very deserving of it. What she has done this season is remarkable.”
An awards bonanza
The awards will be presented Wednesday at the conference tournament in Kennesaw, Ga. The Lady Bisons may have to find more storage space on the bus for all of the hardware.
Dobson was not alone in the postseason awards. Sophomore Bri McCombs, a transfer from Middle Tennessee State, made an immediate impact on the Lipscomb program and earned A-Sun “Libero of the Year” honors. She is the first Lady Bisons player to win the award since Ann Mullins accomplished that feat in 2005 when it was known as the “Defensive Player of the Year”.
Dobson, McCombs and Ford joined setter Caitlin “Dot” Dotson as A-Sun First Team All-Conference picks. Dobson was one of three unanimous selections to the team.
“When you take a look at the composition of that team there weren’t any surprises,” Rosenthal said. “Lauren, Jewell and Dot were all on the preseason watch list.
“We obviously knew that Bri was good, really good. It was a matter of how we would integrate her into our system.”
The Lady Bisons dominated the first team, but finished third in the conference with a 15-3 record behind ETSU and Jacksonville at 16-2 each. But what the Lady Bisons have done this season goes beyond records or even statistics.
“It is a credit to those players and what they have done over the course of the year,” Rosenthal said. “We have been extremely competitive from start to finish. We lost some close ones in conference. Out of conference we lost to some great opponents.
“We have always had a well-balanced attack. Sometimes when you have a well-balanced attack the individual numbers aren’t going to be as strong.”
McCombs makes quick impact
McCombs moved from defensive specialist at the start of the season to libero and dominated in her role ranking first in the conference in digs in A-Sun matches only and third overall.
“One of the things that Bri does really well is that she is a student of the game,” Rosenthal said. “Coming into a new system she has really done a nice job of really trusting what we are trying to do and integrating that into her play.
“Her all-around passing and defense are great. We are starting to see more leadership from her out on the court. She is a competitor.”
McCombs won the award for her play on the back row, but she is surrounded by solid teammates in Sophie Kellerman, Stephanie Rex, Megan Stout, Claire Peterson and Kayla Ostrom.
“They make her job, as far as understanding her responsibilities, that much easier,” Rosenthal said. “We saw it this past weekend against Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast. We were in rhythm defensively.”
Consistency has been the key
When Rosenthal talked with the players after the awards were announced he reminded everyone that these were team awards as well as personal accomplishments.
“Those awards are a by-product of everybody else that is a part of this team whether it is in practice or games,” Rosenthal said. “None of this can happen without everybody else.”
The Lady Bisons have been a model of consistency. For most of the season Dotson has been No. 1 in NCAA Division I in assists per set. Dobson has been in the top 10 nationally most of the season in both kills and points per set.
Nationally, as a team, the Lady Bisons have been first in kills and in the top three in assists for the majority of the season as well as being in the top 20 in hitting percentage.
“That is what sets this year apart from other years is what this team has done from start to finish,” Rosenthal said. “Early on I was somewhat hesitant to talk about it. But one week turned into two and then so on and so forth.
“It is pretty neat to see what is happening on a consistent level. The most impressive thing is that is not only in the conference, but the top 10 in the nation.”
Again that consistency is a reflection of how well the Lady Bisons work as a team.
“You have to stop, look and recognize that kills per set is a lot of Dot setting and our attackers like Jewell and Lauren,” Rosenthal said. “But what we talk about is our defense and our passers.
“It really is a team effort. That is what we are focusing on. Our girls are talking about how proud they are of Jewell and Bri on social media. There is no jealousy.”
Rosenthal also gives credit for the honors to assistant director of strength and conditioning Will Osburn, trainer Alicia Grover, assistant coaches Billy Ebel and Ann Armes and former assistant coach Jeff Wismer.
With the Lady Bisons headed to the Atlantic Sun Tournament for the ninth straight time Rosenthal doesn’t know how the postseason honors will affect his team.
“It is fun to see quality people recognized for the jobs they are doing,” Rosenthal said. “I think this adds confidence for us. And for 20 year olds confidence is good. This helps the girls to realize how hard they have worked.”
The Lady Bisons, the No. 3 seed in the tournament, face host Kennesaw State Thursday night at 6:30 in the quarterfinals. The winner advances to the semifinals Friday night at6:30 to face No. 2 seed ETSU.