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Junior outside hitter Miette Veldman jumps for the ball in a match last year. JMU is ranked No. 19 in hitting percentage in all of Division I.

This weekend is a big one for JMU volleyball.

In its first season in the Sun Belt Conference, JMU’s success has come early. The Dukes are 19-4 overall, 13-1 in conference play and 12-0 against the Sun Belt East Division. They’ve clinched the No. 1 seed in the east ahead of the Sun Belt Conference Championship and look to win their first conference title since 2017.

The team has looked dominant in its play, and the numbers back it up. Heading into its final regular season series, JMU holds the 19th-highest hitting percentage in all of Division I at .273. This number is derived from the total number of kills, minus any errors, and divided by the total number of attempts.

JMU senior middle blocker Sophie Davis said the high percentage wasn’t anticipated, but it wasn’t much of a surprise, either.

“I just know that we’re a great team and we work well together,” Davis said. “Not really expected, but I’m happy with it.”

Davis’ personal statistics have also stood out this season. The senior is currently seventh in hitting percentage among Division I players with .418. She’s on track to break the record for the highest hitting percentage in program history, which she set herself in 2019 at .391.

Davis said her focus against South Alabama will be on eliminating errors in order to keep her and JMU’s hitting percentage up. For her, Davis said, that means focusing on what she can control by putting herself in the position to get kills. 

When citing the reason for such high percentages, she said JMU’s focus is more so on the offense as a whole, and that fixating on offensive production naturally drives up hitting percentages.

Head coach Lauren Steinbrecher looked at it a different way. She said she expected a high hitting percentage because of how much of an emphasis the Dukes put on that specifically throughout the season. 

Every match the team goes into has statistical goals, Steinbrecher said, sort of like a threshold that the team is trying to pass. The goals are always the same, but Steinbrecher said this season, those goals are being passed over and over again.

“They continue to amaze me with some of the performances,” Steinbrecher said. “It’s like, ‘Wow, that is elite.’”

Those elite performances will be needed this weekend as the Dukes face off against South Alabama. The 2021 Sun Belt Champion Jaguars are tied for second in the Sun Belt West Division and sport a .239 hitting percentage of their own, the 76th highest in the country.

Steinbrecher is aware of the challenge.

“I think it’s going to be an absolute battle,” she said. “That South Alabama team is very good, and in a lot of ways, they’re very similar to us.”

Regardless, Steinbrecher said she’s glad JMU will face the Jaguars right before the tournament, as she hopes it’ll help the team learn how to earn every single point like they’ll have to do in the tournament.

Junior outside hitter Miëtte Veldman added that this weekend, the team is hoping to focus on what they call “detail.” She described this as the little things that help make JMU’s job easier, so that if the Dukes find themselves against a tough opponent, they can rely on what they know.

Despite the circumstances surrounding their regular season finale — it’ll be the last time JMU plays in Godwin Hall — the Dukes are hoping to pass their final test of the regular season, bolstered by a high hitting percentage and the best record in the Sun Belt.

As for Davis, the senior whose own hitting percentage has helped get JMU to this point, her final thoughts before the match were concise.

“My team is awesome,” she said.

Contact Jackson Hephner at hephnejt@dukes.jmu.edu. For more volleyball coverage, follow the sports desk on twitter @TheBreezeSports