Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Friday, January 18, 2019

NCAA Volleyball Tournament preview

Head coach Barry Goldberg discusses star players, tournament expectations

For 27 years, head coach Barry Goldberg has stood at the helm of the AU women’s volleyball program and helped the Eagles earn 13 Patriot League titles and two Colonial Athletic Association conference championships. Goldberg and his team made history in 2013 after winning two NCAA tournament games, and the longtime coach looks forward to coaching the team in this year’s tournament as well. The Eagles take on the University of Kentucky tonight at 4:30 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio, and Goldberg said he expects the match to be challenging because of Kentucky’s size and athleticism on the court.

“Kentucky’s a big, physical team.” Goldberg said at the selection show on Sunday night. “We practice all year long playing at the net and play[ing] short games, just pushing the ball down at the net, just trying to be as physical as we can be, but it’s going to be a test for us. These big physical teams, they’re tough to handle, so we’re going to have to see our capabilities in terms of stepping up and being a big physical team ourselves. In the Patriot League, we’re a big physical team, and now we’re going to have to be tested nationally as well.”

The Eagles faced a tough early season schedule this fall in an effort to prepare for the tournament, battling teams including University of Florida, Hawaii, UCLA and Northeastern, but Kentucky will present a new obstacle. The Wildcats, ranked 24th according to the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, hold a 21-9 record and finished third in the SEC.

“The ranking is not a key to beating them,” Goldberg said. “Their players are the key, and their coaching style and their system there that they play are the keys to beating them.

Kentucky sophomore middle blocker Kaz Brown will likely challenge the Eagles at the net, as she ranks second in the NCAA in blocks per set and third for total blocks. Brown and the Wildcats will face off against three-time Patriot League Player and Setter of the Year Monika Smidova, who averages nearly ten assists a game and holds a .42 service ace per set average. Senior outside hitters Allison Cappellino, Sarah Katz and Kristyna Lindovska join Smidova, sophomore libero Hoakalei Dawson and freshman middle blocker Carmen Unzue join Smidova as Patriot League award winners.

Dawson moved from the setter and outside hitter position into libero this year but excelled in her new role, earning Patriot League Libero of the Year for her efforts. Goldberg said the chemistry between his senior leaders and the newer players has allowed everyone to reach their potential on the court.

“Hoakalei felt really comfortable in a position she had never played before because she had players here like Allison Cappellino, Kristyna Lindovska, Monika Smidova and Sarah Katz,” Goldberg said. “You know, with players like that around you the younger players feel really confident that they can add to this too. That’s really what you want. Everyone gives a little bit, and it becomes a lot.”

The winner of tomorrow afternoon’s game between AU and Kentucky will play either Ohio State University or Robert Morris University.

Goldberg said the team hopes to advance in the tournament, but he remains focused on the experience.

“For these freshmen, this is an incredibly unique and gifted experience for them, so I’m happy for all these new people, and I’m really pleased with these seniors that have been through this and have taken us through the tournament all these years that they can continue to build a tradition on what they are doing, and it’s special every time you do this for sure,” Goldberg said.

To hear more from Goldberg about the game, check out his Q&A with The Eagle here:

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