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Piper Matsumoto’s Versatility Goes Beyond the Game

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Transfer. Two-sport athlete. Conference champion. High GPA. Goats, chickens and pigs (more on that later). Southern Miss senior setter Piper Matsumoto has a diverse resume, and she has handled every challenge with poise.

The Fort Myers, Fla., native began her career at Long Island-Brooklyn, which is 1,287 miles from home. The Blackbirds not only won the Northeast Conference title her freshman season, but she also recorded the first triple-double in the league’s championship history (55 assists, 15 digs, 10 kills) to help the team advance to the NCAA Tournament.

“It was a really great experience, Matsumoto said. “I knew that going through the recruiting process, I wanted to go out of state. There are a lot of really good schools in Florida, but I really wanted something different. I ended up in New York, which is random, but it was good. I enjoyed the city and the few years I was there.”

Matsumoto was ready to try something new following her sophomore season, ultimately settling on Southern Miss, another 1,195 miles away from her previous location. As a mid-year enrollee (Jan. 2019), she was also able to compete on the Golden Eagles’ inaugural beach team. Paired with Kellie Garraway, Abbey Wilson and Lindsey Legg throughout the season, she was able to get 12 wins despite no formal coaching or training in the sport, with the exception of some summer tournaments in high school.

As for indoor, she was one of 11 newcomers for the upcoming fall season. Head coach Stephanie Radecki remarked on her leadership during that time.

“Piper came in with Lindsey and Chloe (Klusman) mid-year and joined our first beach team, so it was a huge advantage for those three heading into that fall when we had so many new players,” she said. “We saw a lot of leadership out of her, just to be able to lead that group through a frustrating season. Coming into this fall, I think I’ve seen more improvement from her out of anyone. She’s playing the best ball she’s had in her career here.”

Of course, indoor and beach present entirely different scenarios and roles. With the latter, Matsumoto says she is “excited to do everything.”

“I can be more aggressive when I’m swinging,” she said. “I think it has to come with my previous volleyball career. I had three partners my first year: Abbey, Lindsey and Kellie. The next, I played with Madi Lawler. The longer you’re with someone playing beach, the better you get to know each other and be in sync. Being able to play with a bunch of different people, I’ve learned a lot from them.”

Radecki, who oversaw the genesis of the beach program, especially saw the high potential in Matsumoto.

“She has always handled it really well,” Radecki said. “She’s an amazing athlete and very disciplined. If you ask her to do something, she’ll do it. In my opinion, it was never a struggle for her. In beach, she’s a hitter. It’s two completely different things. Piper is very good at all skills, and that is very important in beach.”

Matsumoto has aspirations for the pro volleyball circuit but of course is still planning for her post-playing career. Growing up, she wanted to be a vet, but now they may remain a hobby.

“I grew up with a lot of animals,” she said. “But in order to be a vet, you have to put them through pain sometimes, and I didn’t know if that was for me. We had goats, chickens and pigs, cats, dogs and even some reptiles like tortoises and bearded dragons. We’d get up early and feed them before school.”

Matsumoto, a speech pathology major who also boasts a 3.8 GPA, says she wants to work with kids.

“I might eventually work with adults and other clientele,” Matsumoto said. “I don’t know if I want to work in a school or not, so maybe a private practice or hospital. I haven’t narrowed it down that much, I just love kids.”

Southern Miss (9-6, 4-4 C-USA) will play its home finales Sunday (12 p.m.) and Monday (11 a.m.) against North Texas.