The University of Nevada-Las Vegas has turned a corner thus far in the 2018 season. UNLV has already surpassed their entire win total for the 2017-18 season, earning an 11-5 record so far this season. Two weeks into conference play, UNLV is 2-2, with wins over Utah State and Boise State. In the 2017-18 season, UNLV finished 8-23 overall and 4-14 in conference play.
The Rebels have posted a .262 hitting percentage this season, putting them at 25th in the country as well as first in the Mountain West Conference. The Rebels also rank second in the nation with 2.08 aces/set.
First-year head coach Dawn Sullivan is no stranger to turning around programs. Current Iowa State Head Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch took charge of the ISU program in 2005, with Sullivan as an assistant (2005-2011) and later the associate head coach (2012-2018). Sullivan helped turn around ISU, working with Johnson-Lynch to take their program to a 268-130 clip over the last 13 seasons, including a 152-80 record in Big 12 play. Prior to their arrival, ISU posted a Big 12 record of 13-167 from 1998-2004 and finished last in the conference during seven of those seasons.
In an interview with the Mountain West Network, Sullivan stated that the team started to improve once they had started to see little improvements over time. “It wasn’t focused on the end result, it was focused on the day to day stuff,” Sullivan continued.
Multiple players cite the new coaching staff’s commitment to improvement during the offseason as the main catalyst for change this season. Sophomore OH Mariena Hayden commented on the tough offseason in an interview with the MWN, while complementing the new staff’s ability to see their potential and push them to continue to improve.
Hayden leads the nation in aces per set, with .95. aces/set and 57 total aces on the year. Hayden also ranks third in the nation in points per set with 5.88 points/set, and ninth in kills per set with 4.73. Hayden has also been the first player in Mountain West history to be named Offensive Player of the Week three weeks in a row. Hayden was also named the VolleyMob Player of the Week for Week 5, after posting 6.14 kills and 3.85 digs per set the previous week.
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