Back during pre-season two-a-day practices, AU volleyball coach Barry Goldberg and his team talked about continuing their dominance of the Patriot League and making an impact on the national scene in the latter part of the year.
Having already won its fourth straight PL title in dominating undefeated fashion, the Eagles will now get their shot at national prominence when they take on fourth ranked Penn State Nittany Lions in the first round of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament this weekend in Happy Valley, PA.
In preparation for their shot at the big dance, the Eagles traveled to California over the holiday weekend to participate in the Baden Thanksgiving Tournament hosted by Long Beach State University.
The Eagles finished in third place after beating Kentucky in the consolation match on Saturday in a close five game match. On Friday the Eagles fell to the host Long Beach State squad 3-0.
Looking back on the weekend, Goldberg said he was mostly pleased with his team. After rough outing against Long Beach State, he said his girls fought back against a tough Kentucky squad.
"It was a big time tournament for us in preparation for obviously our biggest tournament now," said Goldberg.
Senior Natacha Cornaz continued her stellar play for the Eagles as she led the team with 15 kills in each match. Junior Cuttrina Biddulph, senior Erin Algaier, sophomore Liz Maloney and freshman Chelsa Brooks all teamed up alongside Cornaz and provided the offensive firepower Goldberg hopes his team can use to pull off an upset of Penn State.
"We are going to have to attack the ball well if we are going to win," said Goldberg. Goldberg said Kentucky was actually a more physical team than Penn State and that his team passed its test against a major conference squad.
"Physically, we have the ability to match up with Penn State," said Goldberg. "But you also have to have endurance. In these tournament matches you have to be able to wear teams out. You have to make kills and do it over and over again."
Goldberg will look to senior Libero Sabrina Vasconcelos and senior setter Courtney Mulford as the keys to the team's success. The Penn State gymnasium is significantly larger than that of Bender Arena, the Eagles home and the other PL schools, which will make the ball handling of these players even more crucial in an unfamiliar setting.
"Penn State's key is going to be to press us with serve receives. They want to serve so we can't run our offense," said Goldberg. "I do expect them to come after us, and we're going to have to respond."
The Eagles enter the match against Penn State with a 24-6 record. Each of past four years, Goldberg's teams have fallen in the first round of the tournament after winning PL titles. He expects things to be different this year.
"No matter what happens, no matter what I say, during the first few points of the match everyone's going to be hyped up," said Goldberg. "We're just going to have to calm down and play the match we've been training for all these days"