AU volleyball to play Kentucky in NCAA Tournament
The Eagles will play the Wildcats at 4:30 p.m. on Friday at Ohio State University.
Volleyball highlight clips filled the projector screen in the Tavern late Sunday night as the AU women’s volleyball team watched and waited in anticipation of their NCAA tournament seed.
But the suspense didn’t last long. Within twenty minutes of the start of the NCAA volleyball selection show, the Eagles learned they will be traveling to Ohio State University to face the University of Kentucky on Friday at 4:30 p.m. The announcement brought joy to the players on the team, especially when they discovered they would be driving to play at a neutral site.
“I definitely haven't been sleeping well the last couple of days leading up to this, but mentally you just have to keep a positive mind, not really cancelling out anybody and the possibilities of what could happen, so [it’s] definitely tough, but now it’s a lot easier knowing when we’re playing, who we’re playing, where we’re playing,” senior outside hitter Allison Cappellino said.
The Eagles swept Patriot League play this season, accumulating a 16-0 conference record and claiming their 13th conference title in fifteen years. Seniors Cappellino, Sarah Katz and Monika Smidova enter this year’s tournament with two years of national playing experience under their belts, and Katz said the recent conference success will help this year’s team move into the tournament with confidence.
“I think it’s good that we’ve had a lot of success recently, and things have been flowing well on the court, and everyone has played a big role, or some type of role this year,” Katz said. “I think that will be helpful because NCAA tournament games are always like ‘you never know what is going to happen,’ so I think we’re prepared as a team through our Patriot League play.”
Kentucky enters this year’s tournament fresh off a 3-2 win against Auburn University on Nov. 27 and will compete in its 11th consecutive NCAA tournament. The Eagles won the most recent meeting 3-2 against the Wildcats in 2004.
AU will travel to Ohio with a roster that includes six freshmen, but Katz said the young players have demonstrated the skills necessary to compete against top-level teams.
“I think that our freshmen have showed a lot of maturity in the games, so they’ve definitely grown over the games, so I think they’ll do alright,” Katz said. “ I think we’re ready.”
Katz, who originally hails from Kentucky, recently earned distinction as a member of the 2015 Academic All-Patriot team with a 3.93 GPA. Other AU players who earned league awards include Smidova (Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year, Player of the Year, Setter of the Year), Kristyna Lindovska (Academic All-Patriot League), Hoakalei Dawson (Patriot League Libero of the Year) and Carmen Unzue (Patriot League Rookie of the Year).
Head coach Barry Goldberg said he recognizes the success that his players have had this year, and he looks forward to watching his team test itself against a team outside of the Patriot League this Friday.
“Awards are nice, and a lot of players were recognized for some of the great things they did this year,” Goldberg said. “Freshman, and libero and player of the year, all good players, all well-recognized in our league certainly, and we’re just hoping now that they’re going to improve their games along with everyone else, from players starting to players that aren’t playing as much that are going to get some opportunities to play. I’m pretty sure they’re going to be hyped up. It’s the NCAA tournament, everybody’s ready to go, so we’re just going to give it our best shot and see if we can find some holes in what Kentucky brings and see if we can take advantage of it.”