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Friday, June 21, 2024
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Volleyball NCAA's close to home

The volleyball gods must be happy.

AU's first four trips to the NCAA Tournament involved hectic treks to Colorado and Kentucky and a battle with ice in North Carolina. But for its fifth, the Eagles won't have to travel to the end of the Green Line.

AU (22-9, 14-0 PL) received perhaps its friendliest seeding ever for the first round of the NCAA Tournament, a Friday night bout in College Park, Md., with No. 25 Maryland. The victor takes on the winner of the match between No. 12 Colorado State and George Mason.

"It's exciting," head coach Barry Goldberg said. "Finally, the people who have watched us play all year have a chance to see us in the tournament."

Both teams clinched berths Nov. 23 by winning their conference tournaments.

AU earned its third-consecutive Patriot League title with a 3-0 win over Bucknell. Maryland upset No. 6 Georgia Tech 3-1 for its third Atlantic Coast Conference title, its first since 1996.

Like the Eagles, the Terrapins (26-7, 12-4 ACC) are making their fifth appearance in the NCAA Tournament, where they are 2-4. Not one of the ACC's traditional powers, they only cracked the top-25 rankings this fall after winning the conference. Maryland's last postseason visit came in 1997 when it went 27-2, including an undefeated mark in the ACC, before falling 3-0 to Ohio State in the second round.

Judging by their history, the Terps might not be the most glamorous team, but Goldberg said his squad must still be prepared for a challenge. AU is 1-13 all-time versus Maryland, a team it last faced during the season in a 3-0 loss in 1998.

Goldberg said the teams also met this spring in a tightly played off-season match won by Maryland.

While the Terps weren't ranked until the end of the season, Goldberg said their clinching of the ACC title is a testament to their toughness.

"It boosts your confidence level," he said. "You start the year off with one goal, to be successful in your conference. And that's what they did."

The Terps are a more athletic team overall than the Eagles and especially dangerous along the net, Goldberg said. Maryland averaged 3.02 blocks per game, good enough to lead the ACC and be 16th in the nation. It also had the league's top blocker in Second Team All-ACC selection Rachel Wagener. AU enters the match averaging 1.91 blocks per game, putting it in the middle of the PL pack for that statistic.

The Eagles are 0-4 in the NCAA Tournament and have never beaten a ranked team, although their schedule this season included six of them. AU came close to toppling No. 11 California-Santa Barbara Sept. 12, but lost 3-1 by scores of 27-30, 31-29, 29-31 and 25-30.

The Eagles also battled No. 15 Michigan State hard at the AU Volleyball Classic Sept. 20 before running out of gas, losing 3-1 by scores of 19-30, 22-30, 36-34 and 26-30.

Goldberg said eventually one of these tough matches is bound to end in AU's favor.

"You just keep working, keep knocking on the door, then you'll get the breaks," Goldberg said.

He has to hope starting this year's postseason drive in the Eagles' own backyard is just the first of those breaks.

As the semester comes to an end and one of the founding members leaves American University, Section 202 has decided to take a trip down memory lane. For our fans, old and new, who are wondering how Section 202 came to be, this episode is a must. Listen along as hosts Connor Sturniolo and Liah Argiropoulos reminisce about the beginning of Section 202 and how it got to where it is now.

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