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Olivia Hepworth Reflects on First Two Years, Upcoming Junior Season

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — The definition of a pioneer is someone who is the first to explore or settle in a new area.

Olivia Hepworth, a junior on the Southern Miss beach volleyball team, not only played every contest as a freshman in 2019, but did so on the first squad in program history.

The great unknown was no match for her effervescent optimism.

“It was exciting because we really didn’t have any expectations,” she said, beaming at the memory. “We kind of set our own standards. It was all so new; we didn’t know what to expect. It was a lot of fun and learning.”

Hepworth came to Hattiesburg from Gulf Breeze, Florida, and her athletic genes include her father being a former basketball player at nearby West Florida. She played indoor volleyball in high school but began focusing on beach as a sophomore.

“I wanted volleyball to be something I’d be able to do after college and play the rest of my life,” Hepworth said. “Playing here has been a great experience, and when I get out, I think I’ll have more connections.”

It has paid off so far. She appeared in all 32 matches as a freshman, boasting a 17-15 record at No. 3 with Cyan Blackdeer and Breleigh Favre. She also went 2-3 against ranked opponents, including a win over No. 4 LSU’s Melia Lindner and Megan Davenport in the third pairing. As a sophomore, the Golden Eagles had won five in a row before COVID-19 halted the season.

Naturally, she has taken those 2020 lessons into play this year.

“Everyone has been working so, so hard,” she said. “It’s really impressive that we haven’t had any lulls. Shawn (Taylor, head coach) has done a really great job at keeping us motivated and working hard for the season. I think we have a different mindset since everything was canceled and unexpected, and now we’re so grateful for the time we do have out here whether it’s playing or practicing. I think everyone is really excited about getting into games and competitions.”

The season begins Saturday and Sunday at the Seminole Beach Bash, and No. 3 Florida State is first up in a season loaded with travel and ranked opponents. With that being said, Hepworth is all for it, especially as she remarks on the fuller offseason they did not quite have in the past and their “leaps-and-bounds” improvement.

“I think it gives us a really good opportunity to show we’ve gotten a lot better and that we can compete with anyone, challenged like that and playing some of the best teams in the country,” she said. “Our coaches have been preparing us so well, and we are confident in what we can do.”