NEWS, NOTES &
The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
By Bethany Bradsher
New path to NCAA's for C-USA
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teams in mid-level leagues like Conference USA, conference tournaments
can be more curse than blessing.
always the surprising upstarts that come in with a mediocre record, pull out
a victory in the tournament and glide to the postseason. But more
frequently, it seems, teams that are strong from the first game to the last,
teams that seem like a lock for the NCAA tournament, stumble in the
conference event and miss their one chance to advance.
happened to East Carolina softball in 2009, when a stellar season was cut
short by failure to win a C-USA trophy. It also happened last fall to the
volleyball team from Southern Mississippi, which went 27-4 and entered the
league tournament as the top seed, only to fall to Rice in the championship
and go home early.
volleyball tournament has been the subject of scrutiny in recent years, and
last season the league’s athletic directors decided to trim the field to
eight teams. East Carolina’s team didn’t make it, and that exclusion ended
its season in early November, while other teams continued to practice and
play for three more weeks.
that the risks of playing in the C-USA tourney outweigh the benefits, the
athletic directors made the bold decision to get rid of the tournament
altogether. This fall the Lady Pirates will play a slate of 32 matches, with
the last one on Nov. 26, and their eligibility for NCAA postseason play will
be based solely on their record through that regular season.
automatic bid will go to the regular-season champion, but the coaches hope
that their teams might get more than one bid under the new system.
“I’m a big
believer that you should reward teams that work hard every weekend,” said
ECU head coach Pati Rolf. “When Southern Miss got booted after being number
one all year, I think we all decided that was enough of that.”
elimination of the C-USA tournament is the most significant change to the
Pirates’ schedule, but they will also open the season with their own
tournament, the ECU Classic, which will feature visits from Liberty, UNC-Charlotte
and Cleveland State.
Add to that
tournament shuffle an increase in home matches — from eight in 2009 to 13
this year — and Rolf and assistant coach Katie Virtue see a stage set for
Pirate success. Last year, in the new coaching staff’s first campaign, ECU
finished 9-19, but Virtue hopes their opponents let that record lull them
into false security when this group takes the court.
“I think the
expectations, and the intensity and kind of taking it a little more
seriously has been a change for them,” Virtue said of the returning players’
adjustment to the new coaches. “We struggled against everybody last year,
but I’m really excited about this year. I think we have a stronger squad,
It’s a young
team. The only senior is Marina Gusman-Brown, a star on the ECU softball
team who is using her last months of eligibility to add another sport to her
Of the five
returning players, two are sophomores and three are juniors, and all are
eager to prove how they have matured within Rolf’s system.
work really, really hard, you start fighting for what you have worked for,”
Rolf said, “They have really dug in and embraced what we’re doing.”
And even if
the majority of players on the roster are new to college volleyball, the
newcomers are accustomed to big-time competition. Two ECU freshmen — setters
Kasey Kavenaugh and Andrea Queck — are playing for national teams through
USA Volleyball this summer.
“We have an
excellent group of freshmen coming in,” Virtue said. “They’re young, but
they have a lot of experience. They’ve all had a number of years of club
experience from some really good programs. They’re young, but they’re not
going to seem as young, and I think they’re going to fit in really nicely.”
the rookie senior who hasn’t played competitive volleyball since high
school, will still undoubtedly make an impression on opponents because of
her tremendous athleticism and toughness. After helping lead the softball
team to a 44-18 season and a trip all the way to the finals of the NCAA
Regional in Austin, the volleyball staff hopes that above all she brings her
volleyball team the habit and spirit of winning.
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