Volleyball ranks #1 preseason

The AU women's volleyball team expects big things of themselves this season, but apparently so does the rest of league. In a preseason coaches' poll the Eagle were picked to finish first in the seven-team Colonial Athletic Association this year.

The Eagles will return five seniors winners to a squad, which finished last season at 25-7. They finished a disappointing second at the CAA championships, which kept them from entering the NCAA tournament.

Part of the reason why AU might be ranked number one in the preseason poll is because of the three former Fist-team All-CAA winners: seniors Heather Wintermeyer, Sylvia Panak and Ajola Berisha, who is also the 1998 CAA Player of the Year.

Despite his strong returning line up, Eagles' coach Barry Goldberg remains realistic about what his team's preseason ranking really means in light of what he calls "the most competitive schedule we have ever compiled."

"Sometimes that is a popularity poll, but I like to think that other teams fear what we have here," Goldberg said.

This season the Eagles will face three top-10 opponents including two matches with former NCAA champion Long Beach State, who the Eagles played in Bender on Monday. It was the first ever match between AU and Long Beach.

The Eagles have a fairly close relationship with Long Beach considering that Panak, the team's setter, played for Long Beach when they won their national championship in 1998. Panak transferred to AU last season where she complied 1274 assists which is the sixth best season in AU history.

"I'm excited. I'm not really nervous. I get hyped up for big games and I play better in big games," Panak told The Eagle last week about her reunion match with Long Beach.

Strong performances against teams like Long Beach will be crucial for the Eagles this year if they hope to make it back to the NCAAs. Currently, AU teams are barred from participating in the CAA championships because of the University's plan to move to the Patriot League at the beginning of the 2001-2002 academic year.

Goldberg said the University is litigating the conference's decision to bar AU from the postseason, which means there is still a chance AU could play in the CAA tournament. However Goldberg added that the team must focus on their conference schedule and make sure they finish on the top of their division. Strong performances against Long Beach and other teams will not simply carry AU to the tournament, he added.

"The NCAA has not been very favorable to the conference and with good reason. [The conference] has not been very successful in the tournament," Goldberg said.

Two years ago the Eagles lost to the University of Louisville, which was ranked #23 in the nation, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The only bleak side to the start of the Eagles' season will be the temporary loss of Wintermeyer who is still recuperating from her March shoulder surgery. Wintermeyer had three ligaments and her rotator cuff repaired, and was expected to return four to six months after the surgery.

Now, it is the end of the fifth month. Wintermeyer has tried to practice with the team, but is still having difficulty in what she calls "cases of tendinitis". She told The Eagle that she will return when the team makes their trip to California to play Long Beach for the second time, Pepperdine and The University of California Riverside.

This past weekend the team traveled to Philadelphia, Pa. to play in the Villanova Wildcat Classic. There they played the University of Akron, Rider University and the host team, Villanova University.

It was the team's first ever meeting with Akron. Historically, AU is undefeated against Rider and has split their matches with Villanova.

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