As the lone player on the 2014 volleyball squad who has been a member of the team each of the past four years, Deveney Wells-Gibson knew there were a number of question marks about the Bearkats coming into her senior season.
Southland champions in 2012 and top three finishers each of the past five years, the Bearkats return only two starters in 2014. Young players are filling key roles in several positions.
The league’s head coaches picked Sam Houston to finish fourth in their annual preseason poll.
“Before training camp started, a lot of people didn’t how good we were going to be this year,” the senior outside hitter from San Antonio said. “But this team really has come together in a short time. We’re close on the court and off. We’re enjoying the game.”
Sam Houston volleyball fans couldn’t have asked for a better start to the 2014 season.
The Bearkats opened the schedule by rolling unbeaten through four matches to win the team championship of the 26th Sam Houston Invitational.
The Kats defeated Mississippi State from the Southeastern Conference, California State-Bakersfield and Texas-Pan American from the Western Athletic Conference and Louisiana-Monroe from the Sun Belt.
The straight sets win over previously unbeaten CSUB was especially impressive. A 26-12 team a year ago that is picked to be one of the top contenders for a title in its first year in the WAC, Bakersfield had not dropped a set in their first two matches of the tournament.
The first and third sets were tight battles, but in the end, Sam Houston walked away with the win and the tournament title. Wells-Gibson made the winning kill on match point.
Wells-Gibson was named as the tournament “Most Valuable Player” and, two days later, was voted as Southland Conference volleyball “Offensive Player of the Week.”
The honor marked the fourth time in her Bearkat career for her to earn league “Player of the Week” selection.
Two other players, middle blocker Shelby Genung and setter Michelle Griffith also earned All-Tournament honors. Genung totaled 27 kills and 13 blocks while Griffith assisted on 164 of SHSU’s 202 kills. Playing in her first matches as the Kats’ starting setter, Griffith also accounted for 48 digs.
For the weekend, Wells-Gibson totaled 79 kills in 15 sets over the weekend and had a hitting percentage of .248 while recording five aces and five assists. Her top performance was 25 kills in the win over Bakersfield.
“Deveney is our mainstay. She is a solid rock for the team,” SHSU head coach Brenda Gray said. “She has stepped up not only in her skill leadership on the floor but in her vocal and mental leadership. With the addition of those last two to her skills, she looks ready for a tremendous season.”
Wells-Gibson is a two-time first team All-Southland Conference performer. She earned Southland “Player of the Year” honors as a sophomore after leading the Kats to the conference championship.
With her performance during the first weekend of the season, she has become one of only 23 Bearkats to total more than 1,000 kills during her career.
The senior’s successes extend into the class room and community as well. She is a two-time Academic All-Southland performer with a 3.67 overall grade point average. She also is an officer for the SHSU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
The student-athlete group works with university and athletic department administrators to create a quality academic and athletic experience that will culminate in graduation from Sam Houston.
“The SAAC officers stand as the best of our student-athlete leaders,” Associate Athletic Director of Athletics for Student Services Chris Thompson said. “These young men and women are very involved not only in athletics and academics but in giving back to the community as well.”
Wells-Gibson is excited about the coming season.
"Our mentality as a team is to play hard every point," Wells-Gibson said. "Our number one goal is to play each and every point like it was the last point."
Sam Houston faces a tough road swing playing top teams in tournaments at Denver, Houston and Fort Worth before opening conference action. The Kats do not return home to Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum until October 9 when they play host to Incarnate Word.
Focused on the season and completing her Sam Houston degree, Wells-Gibson is uncertain about plans after college. But she has many options, including playing volleyball.
Kendall Cleveland, a teammate on the 2012 Sam Houston volleyball conference championship team, is now playing pro volleyball overseas.
“Kendall has been talking to me a lot about playing after my college career,” Wells-Gibson said. “She’s really having a lot of fun. I don’t know. Right now, the most important thing to me is this team and academics.”