Friday, November 20, 2009

Lipscomb's Pursuit of Perfection hits Second Stage

Tonight, the Lipscomb volleyball team faces the last Atlantic Sun opponent to hand them a loss, their rivals from down the road, the Belmont Bruins.

That last loss came 52 weeks ago at the 2008 edition of the A-Sun Volleyball Championship in the title contest. Lipscomb, the top seed, was trying to win consecutive A-Sun Championships. However, they could not withstand the Bruins' attacks, falling in three sets.

Fast forward to 2009 - in the preseason, the Lady Bisons edged out the Bruins and the FGCU Eagles for the top spot in the coaches' poll and Alex Kelly garnered the Preseason Player of the Year accolade. The two have never once fallen out of the top position. After two weekends of non-conference tournament action, the Lady Bisons opened A-Sun action with a familiar foe, Belmont, at the Bruins' Curb Event Event Center. The Lady Bisons showed 2009 might take on a different feel for 2008, dispatching the champs in the three sets.

Home victories against Jacksonville and UNF, followed by a road conquest at Stetson, pushed Lipscomb to 4-0 with their first trip of the year to Alico Arena up next. FGCU, the league's regular-season champion in both 2007 and 2008, had never tasted a home defeat to an A-Sun opponent. All-Atlantic Sun setter Stefine "Jake" Pease registered 35 assists and 11 digs in a stunning 3-0 sweep of the Eagles - a result that resonated throughout the league.

Home victories against Mercer and Kennesaw State increased the A-Sun mark to 7-0, but perhaps even more impressively, in those seven wins, the Lady Bisons had yet to drop a set. The streak within a streak ended in a five-set thriller against ETSU. The Lady Bisons never trailed in the three sets, dropping the second and fourth, holding on by virtue of a 15-11 victory in the deciding set.

They completed the first round of the double round-robin portion play by defeating Campbell and USC Upstate. The second round brought Belmont into Allen Arena. While the Bruins picked up a set, the record moved to 11-0. As dominating as the Lady Bisons looked during the first round of A-Sun play, the second round might have appeared more impressive. Lipscomb embarked on another set streak, this time reaching 28 in a row before losing the third set to ETSU in the regular-season finale.

Along the way, the Lady Bisons as individuals and as teams have shot up the charts in national categories. They open the week placing 39th in RPI, two spots higher than their previous watershed mark, reached earlier in the season. At 26-3, their win percentage of .897 places them eighth and thanks to the play of Pease, they rank third in assists per set, a mere 0.03 behind the pace-setting Texas A&M. Juniors Alex Kelly and Meghan Hinemeyer have propelled the Lady Bisons to the top of the nation in kills per set. Pease places seventh on the individual side in assists per set while Kelly stands 15th in kills per set and ninth in points per set.

Despite the gaudy achievements, a loss this might mean that a 26-4 or 27-4 Lipscomb might be on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament. The A-Sun has never sent multiple teams to the tournament and that RPI rating of 39 sits right around the spot where teams can be passed over by the committee. Last season, Miami (FL) owned the dubious distinction as the highest ranked school not to make the field. They owned an RPI of 41. Three other top-50 schools, Houston (43), Creighton (46) and Indiana (47) did not make the cut while schools from the powerful SEC, Tennessee (50th) and LSU (51) did.

Schools with Undefeated Records In Conference Play

Lipscomb, Atlantic Sun, 20-0
North Dakota State, Summit, 18-0
Florida International, Sun Belt, 17-0
Penn State, Big Ten, 16-0
Northern Iowa, Missouri Valley, 16-0
Long Island, Northeast, 16-0
Furman, Southern, 16-0
Central Arkansas, Southland, 16-0
Hawai'i, WAC, 16-0
Notre Dame, Big East, 14-0
Albany, America East, 10-0
Maryland Eastern Shore, MEAC, 10-0
Florida A&M, MEAC, 8-0
Alabama A&M, SWAC, 8-0
Grambling State, SWAC, 8-0

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