MONTGOMERY, Ala. | Juniors Madison Beasley and Emersen Belles, both from Gilbert, Arizona, are displaying a chemistry for the Hornets birthed as teens over 1,700 miles away from campus.
Beasley and Belles are great friends – and are also very talented volleyball players.
Both Gilbert, Ariz. natives have shined under 10th year Head Coach Penny Lucas-White, both having highly successful freshman seasons and earning an NCAA Tournament bid in their debuts.
Two years ago, in the pairs’ first season with the Hornet volleyball program, Alabama State finished the 2019 season with a 17-22 overall record, a 11-7 mark in SWAC play.
As freshman, both players earned their way into the rotation – Beasley played in 25 matches and 92 total sets and logged 497 assists 137 digs and 24 aces, while Belles appeared in 38 matches and 134 total sets and finished the season with a team-high 509 for an average of 3.8 d/s along with 52 assists and 39 aces.
While initially meeting on the club circuit, Belles ended up transferring to Perry High School where the two became teammates for their senior year. The college pairing almost didn’t happen with Madison hearing from Alabama State early that year and Emersen talking with other schools during the season.
After initial plans were altered, Beasley talked with the staff at Alabama State about her Perry High School teammate, where they both eventually decided to play.
“We took our visit the same weekend and I think we both knew that was where we would end up by the end of the trip,” Belles said. “Another big part of the decision for me was the fact that I knew this would be a completely different experience from how I grew up with it being an HBCU,” she stated.
Alabama State entered as the fifth seed in the 2019 SWAC Tournament and rallied for three straight victories against fourth-seeded Southern (3-1), top-seed Alabama A&M (3-1), and over second seeded Prairie View (3-0) en route to the championship.
The title was the fourth in a row for Coach Lucas-White and her sixth in nine years and earned the Hornets a bid to the NCAA Tournament where the team squared off against the University of Florida in the opening round of competition.
“We definitely felt pressure but in a good way to complete the four-peat for our teammates and coaches, not only as newcomers to the team but also added pressure since we both played and started a lot of games early.” Belles explained about the team her freshman season. “We also wanted to play well for ourselves to prove to everyone that we were willing to do what it took to win.”
The following season, the Hornet program decided as a team to opt out of the spring 2020 season due to concerns with COVID-19, ending their chance of defending their conference title. However, both players feel the year off helped the 2021 team grow together mentally as well as physically.
“While we were on campus, we practiced three days a week to start to build team chemistry, but we were also expected to each put in work individually on the court and in the weight room,” Beasley stated. “With us having so many newcomers last year I think it really helped us get used to each other and our styles of play going into this year.”
With many of the team’s most experienced players gone after the 2019 Southwestern Athletic Conference championship and run to the NCAA Tournament, both players have been tasked with a more prominent role in the Hornets’ program this year.
So far this season both have been statistical leaders for the Hornets, with Beasley dishing out a team-high 371 assists and recording 113 digs and 20 aces in 23 matches, while Belles leads the team with 179 digs along with 27 assists and 14 aces in just 14 games.
As far as post graduate plans, Belles is a biology pre-health major who plans to become a labor and delivery nurse. Beasley is a psychology major, with plans to get her masters and become a psychologist.
Noble callings indeed.
You can check out Beasley, Belles and the rest of the Hornets will take the floor this weekend with three games at the SWAC Cluster, hosted by Grambling, before they return home to host Southern Mississippi in Montgomery on Thursday, November 4.