Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lipscomb's Championship Experience Pays Off in Comeback Victory

Having dropped only five sets all season in conference games, one can imagine the shock on the Lipscomb bench when ETSU opened up the Atlantic Sun Conference Volleyball Championship by claiming the first two sets.

“We had a great year with winning matches 3-0 so when lost the opening set we kind of looked around and wondered what was happening, but at the same time ETSU was playing great volleyball to start the game,” stated Tournament MVP Alex Kelly of falling behind 2-0.

Lipscomb, who hasn’t lost an A-Sun contest since falling to Belmont in the 2008 A-Sun Championship final in which they also fell behind 2-0 to start the match, understood what they were facing down two sets going into the break. Having played in four consecutive title games, Lipscomb had plenty of leadership and experience to pull of the comeback.

“We were just trying too much - we were trying to make every spectacular play and we need to play our brand of volleyball and that’s what disappointed me most about our play in the first two sets,” Lipscomb head coach Brandon Rosenthal said of the team’s opening play. “To have the experience of players that have been in the title game before was great because they understodd the situation we were in down two and they listened to what our coaching staff was saying to them and went out and executed in the final three sets.”

Set three went Lipscomb’s way with the Lady Bisons winning 25-16 and the momentum started to go the way of the defending champions as they started their trek back to winning the A-Sun title after taking the fourth set as well, 25-22.

“The seniors didn’t want to finish their careers by losing to ETSU, 3-0, in the finals so we came out much stronger in the third set and after claiming the fourth I think the whole team knew that we were going to win the final set,” Kelly added.

With a dominating performance in the final set, 15-8, the Lady Bisons completed a comeback only seen once before in an A-Sun title match by outscoring the Bucs 65-46 in the final three sets to claim back-to-back titles and send Lipscomb to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season and third in the past four even if it wasn’t the way the team imagined it would happen.

Rosenthal added of the match, “We didn’t think it would play out like that, but that’s volleyball."

Bucs Sail into Title Game Riding Wave of Momentum

With three games remaining in the regular season, ETSU stood at 6-1 in the Atlantic Sun Conference with a chance to claim the overall No. 1 seed in the A-Sun Championship, but the Buccaneers fell to Kennesaw State and Mercer, 3-1, in consecutive matches to drop to the third seed in the postseason tournament.

However, ETSU head coach Lindsey Devine and the Bucs recollected themselves in the season finale to sweep USC Upstate and now have claimed victories in their first two matches against No. 6 UNF and No. 2 Kennesaw State to advance to the program’s first A-Sun Championship Final with a showdown against No. 1 Lipscomb.

“This game of volleyball is all about momentum and I know that if our team plays emotional we will make errors, but if we stay calm and continue to talk to one another we will continue with our great play,” Devine said.

In the A-Sun Semifinal against Kennesaw State, ETSU busted out of the gate to a 2-0 lead against the Owls in search of revenge for their late-season loss to the Owls. After falling in the third set, 30-28, the Bucs regained their composure to rebound for a 25-22 triumph in the fourth set to take down the Owls giving ETSU their vindication with the four-set victory and now also a chance to claim the program’s first-ever title.

“Revenge is sweet,” Lauren Baufield stated of the win over the Owls. “We knew coming into the tournament we would probably face Kennesaw State in the semifinals and as a team we were all ready and the momentum took us past them.”

“I feel that our squad is in such a great spot in regards to the way they are playing it wouldn’t have mattered who was on the other side of the net tonight because the focus, the spirit and competitiveness we showed after falling in the third set really exemplifies our team,” said coach Devine of the exciting third set. “We could have folded after that and lost the match, but we kept competing and came away victorious.”

With only Lipscomb standing in their way for an A-Sun title, the Bucs will need to once again regain their composure and show that same competitive spirit in order to defeat the Lady Bisons, who dismissed Belmont 3-0 in the prior semifinal and enter with a 14-match winning streak.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pease and Kelly: The Foundation for Lipscomb's Success

In the 2005 and 2006 seasons, the Lipscomb volleyball team finished fourth in the A-Sun Conference with a combined 27-37 record and 11-7 in conference play. Then the freshman class of Alex Kelly and Stefine “Jake” Pease enrolled on the Lipscomb University campus in Nashville, Tenn. and the program began to see great success with a 91-33 mark with 54 conference victories since 2007.

In their freshman seasons, the Lady Bisons increased their win total by seven games and entered the A-Sun Championship as the four seed. Once there, the Lady Bisons defeated No. 5 Mercer in the opening round, top-seeded Belmont in the semifinals and then captured the conference tournament with a sweep of Jacksonville to give Lipscomb its first tournament title in program history.

Kelly and Pease were both named to the All-Tournament team during that run, which was just the beginning of the awards that were about to pile in for the duo as two years later Lipscomb picked up its second team title defeating FGCU in the final.

“Jake (Pease) and Alex (Kelly) have really raised the bar for our program,” head coach Brandon Rosenthal stated of the duo. “It’s really rewarding and great to see them pick up all of these awards over the span of their careers because they have earned them by being the hardest workers day in and day out.”

Now after adding Elly Kaiser for the 2008 season and one year later the tandem of Meghan Hinemeyer and Tory Ashcraft jumped on board to form the five-person senior class for the Bisons that have won 35-straight A-Sun regular-season matches, which currently ranks as the second longest in the nation.

“We expect to go out and win and I like that because that is where our program has transitioned to,” Rosenthal added of the program’s improvement over the past four years. “That is a level back in the day we weren’t at, but these girls have worked really hard to improve the program to where it is today.”

On Saturday, the Lipscomb senior class has the chance to win the program’s third A-Sun title in four years and become the conference’s first back-to-back tournament winners since UCF claimed three-straight from 2001-2003, but not only that they can cement their legacy as the best class in program history.

“The impact that our five seniors have had on the program is immeasurable, it really is. I think back to recruiting those two girls and to where the program is now and it’s just amazing how far they have taken us.”

Thursday, November 18, 2010

ETSU's Blocking Abilities Propel Bucs to Semifinals

The art of blocking has been an area of volleyball that the ETSU Buccaneers coaching staff has preached to their 14 student-athletes throughout the season and in the Atlantic Sun Championship it showed as the Bucs dominated the Ospreys with 15 blocks in the match to sweep away UNF in the first round of play.

With 11 players on the team that are 5-foot-9 or taller, it would seem as if height would be the key to being the 23rd best team in the nation good at blocking, but ETSU Head Coach Lindsey Devine knows it is more than that.

“We have broken down the skill a lot with our team with the fundamentals of how to approach footwork, hand placement and among other things and we have really reinforced that with our girls to try and excel at.”

Middle blockers Alysa Long and Jamie Stancliff each had a block solo and five block assists to lead the Bucs to their fourth appearance in the A-Sun Semifinals in the past five seasons. In order to advance to the program’s first A-Sun Championship Final they need to defeat the second seed, Kennesaw State, who defeated ETSU 3-1 in the regular season.

“We will definitely need those big blocks when we face Kennesaw State because their players with Sabrita Gulley, Alyssa Lang and Grace Hoyt we will really need to be on our game going against them,” Devine added. “Tonight was just one step closer to our goal - Kennesaw State is a great team and tomorrow is really going to be a battle between them and us.”

Long and Stancliff rank first and second in the conference in blocks per set and they know that in order for the Bucs to continue their run in the A-Sun Championship, the team’s blocking will need to continue to make a difference.

“Our blocking today was a really big difference in the outcome of the contest today and it really allowed us to pick up some momentum against UNF,” stated Long. “We focused on that area of the game in practice coming and we came out and executed in the game.”

With an Owls squad that features five six-foot-tall players, the Bucs need to continue to focus on what their coaches have been teaching them since the beginning of the season in order to move onto the championship final.

Nashville Programs Continue Success at A-Sun Championship

Nashville might be known as Music City, USA, but if Belmont and Lipscomb continue their dominance in the Atlantic Sun Volleyball Championship, the town might be due for a new nickname. The Bruins and Lady Bisons have combined to win the past four A-Sun titles with Lipscomb claiming last year’s crown and Belmont was the victor in 2008.

After Belmont took down the Mercer Bears in the opening match of the A-Sun Championship, 3-1, behind the performances of A-Sun All-Conference members Kayla Albritton and Maggie Johnson, the Bruins face their crosstown rival for the third time this season, after falling to the Lady Bisons in the first two matchups.

“The game with Lipscomb is exciting because each time we have faced them the winner of that match has gone on to win the tournament title,” Bruins head coach Deane Webb said of the rivalry. “That is exciting for our region, for Nashville and for Middle Tennessee to know that our area can sustain and support two quality programs.”

The Bruins and Lady Bisons now square off against one another for the fifth-straight A-Sun Championship on Friday at 5 p.m. in the semifinal. Each team has claimed two victories during that time span, but Lipscomb holds a 2-1 advantage in semifinal matches.

“What impresses me most about Lipscomb is their low errors because they really make you earn your points against them,” Webb stated. “We are going to need to put an entire match together in order to be successful against Lipscomb.”

The Lady Bisons enter the tournament as the clear favorite after sweeping through the conference regular season at 10-0, which included a 3-1 victory against the Bruins in the season finale. The two teams also met in the non-conference ending with the same result.

“I’m excited to face off with Lipscomb,” junior outside hitter Maggie Johnson added. “I think our whole team is (excited) because we feel as if we need that challenge of facing them in this tournament and we will need to play great defense in order to beat them.”

No matter what the outcome on Saturday, the Fort Myers crowd is likely to see a great match as Lipscomb enters the match with a 13-game winning streak and Belmont has recorded seven victories in the past nine matches.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Big-Game Bucs Survive and Advance

The past four games for the ETSU Buccaneers all required extra time for to be decided, but in each game the Bucs had the same mentality ‘Survive and Advance.’ In possibly the program’s biggest game in ETSU’s three-year history, a freshman, Itode Fubara, gave the Bucs the A-Sun Championship with a header in the 95th minute of play.

“Fubara is a very mature player for us even though he is a freshman and to be honest he isn’t the best at heading the ball since he is only 5-foot-7 but he timed the ball great and he was able to lift us to the victory,” Bucs’ Head Coach Scott Calabese said of the A-Sun Tournament MVP.

Despite coming out on top in the game, ETSU had its fair share of big-game nerves compared to the defending A-Sun Champion Hatters, who have appeared in the championship final in four of the past six seasons. The Hatters held the advantage on corners, 4-0, and shots on goal, 3-1 through the match’s first 45 minutes.

“We came out in the first half and were a little shaky and since Stetson had gone through this type of atmosphere before they really took it to us,” Calabrese added of being outshot 6-2 in the opening half. “Once we settled in at halftime, we came out and were able to create opportunities and chances to get us the goal.”

The Bucs will need the same survival mindset to continue their season as they advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history in which another big game will await ETSU.

“The more big games you play in the more you are prepared to compete in them,” Calabrese added. “With the past couple games we played in were all important so we are starting to become more accustomed to the big stage, but the NCAA Tournament is a completely different animal so we will have to come out of the gate with the right mentality.”

Whenever their NCAA Tournament run ends, the Bucs will be set for several years to come with only one senior leaving the program and 14 underclassmen returning for next season.

“We are a really young team with mostly freshman and juniors, but there is a lot of talent on this team and moving forward we are going to see a lot success in this program because of that,” said Fubara.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bucs' Meteoric Rise Leads to A-Sun Championship Final

In 2008, ETSU kicked off its inaugural season in the Atlantic Sun Conference and finished the season with only one conference victory. Fast forward to 2010 and the Bucs entered their A-Sun Championship semifinal as the host and top-seed against No. 4 Lipscomb with a 13-5 record and seven conference victories, more A-Sun wins than the first two years combined.

“The support that this team has received from the whole athletic staff at ETSU has really been the driving force behind the success of the program and they allowed us to achieve what we have so quickly,” said ETSU’s lone senior Guilherme Reis.

Now the Bucs have a chance to advance to the NCAA Tournament after claiming a 1-0 double overtime victory on a last-second goal by Theo Yang, a sophomore midfielder. Yang’s goal with 7.2 seconds left in the second overtime sent the Buccaneer faithful at Summers-Taylor Stadium into a frenzy as the Bucs team stormed the field to celebrate the game-winner.

“The players have worked so hard over the three-year period and they have improved considerably and the staff has worked to bring in quality student-athletes to the program and try to build a tradition towards the right direction,” head coach Scott Calabrese said of his team.

ETSU’s quick rise to success might come as a surprise to most around the conference, but for ETSU Head Coach Scott Calabrese it was all a part of the Bucs’ master plan.

“Believe it or not, we planned to be in the final of the A-Sun Championship, which was a very ambitious goal for us considering how competitive Division I soccer is. However, the ambition of the staff and of the players is to compete hard each time we come out.”

With only one team between ETSU and a guaranteed berth in the NCAA Tournament, the Bucs now face Stetson, who is 4-0 all-time against ETSU, after the Hatters defeated Jacksonville 1-0 in the opening semifinal.

“Stetson is a team that we have not beaten since the inception of the program and we have beaten every other A-Sun team in the past three seasons and they knocked us out of the tournament last year,” Calabrese said of their pending opponent. “So in order for us to achieve our goal of beating every team in the conference this season we will have to be at our absolute finest on Saturday.”

Hatters Attempt to Build Championship Tradition

For the fourth time in the past six Atlantic Sun Conference Championship Finals, a familiar name will appear as the Stetson Hatters leaped past the Jacksonville Dolphins with a strike from the head of senior all-conference defender, Ryan Corning, in the 83rd minute to give the defending champions a 1-0 victory in the opening semifinal.

However, the Hatters will be looking for more than just their third A-Sun title and back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Corning and the rest of the Hatters’ squad will be searching to extend the program’s legacy and increase the men’s soccer tradition in DeLand, Fla.

“We expect to make it the final of the A-Sun Championship every year now and we have been building the program every season since my freshman season and even before that and over that time we have become a better team in hopes of becoming a top-25 program.”

In order to accomplish the feat of becoming a traditional top-25 program, Stetson will need to take down top-seeded ETSU or No. 4 seed Lipscomb, but for Hatters Head Coach Logan Fleck the tough game is over with, “Everyone says there is more pressure to win in the championship final, but I think getting to the championship is much harder.”

With the victory, Stetson has one day off to recuperate both mentally and physically for another championship game, which contrasts from their 11-day layoff from their season finale against Jacksonville on Oct. 31st.

“The idea for our team now is to revamp and to come out on Saturday and play our type of game,” Fleck stated. “This can be a special team because no Stetson team has been able to win back-to-back titles and advance to the NCAA Tournament. This team has accomplished a lot of special things together and they can add to that on Saturday.”

Corning’s goal was extra sweet for the Hatters after a 1-1 tie to the Dolphins in the finale cost Stetson the overall number one seed and host opportunity for the A-Sun Championship.

“It’s a great feeling to come back and get the win over a team we have a rivalry with and we have a lot of respect for Jacksonville’s program and they came out fighting, but we were able to get our revenge from the season finale and a chance for the A-Sun title.”

The VolleyBlog - November 11th Edition

After a late-season bye, the VolleyBlog is back for the final time of the regular season. While five teams know they are bound for Fort Myers, Fla. and next week's Atlantic Sun Volleyball Championship, only two know their seeding and one game will decide the final spot.

Bisons Secure Perfect Season
With a four-set win against Boulevard rival Belmont, Lipscomb completed the Atlantic Sun portion of its schedule an unblemished 10-0, becoming the first team in the country to complete perfect conference regular-season records spanning the past two years. Only Northern Iowa from the Missouri Valley and Hawaii from the WAC could join Lipscomb on this list. The 2010 Bisons join UCF teams from 1999 and 2003, ETSU's 2006 and last year's team as the only five in A-Sun single-division history to turn in undefeated conference records. Only last year's Bisons and the 2003 Knights would also win the A-Sun Conference Tournament Championship.

River City Rumble to Determine Final A-Sun Championship Spot

Jacksonville and UNF both beat Campbell at home last weekend to first, eliminate the Camels from contention for making the A-Sun Championship field, and second, to set up a winner-take-all contest between the crosstown rivals for the sixth seed. In a non-conference match last month, the Dolphins rallied for a five-set win. The Dolphins hit .433 and .500 respectively in the final two sets to pull out the win. In 17 all-time meetings, the Dolphins own a 9-8 lead.

20x2; 20x4
With 12 wins in its last 13 games, Lipscomb reached the 20-win mark, giving the conference multiple 20-win teams for the 10th time in the last 11 years joining ETSU. Lipscomb has now posted 20-win seasons in four consecutive years. Only one other current A-Sun school, Belmont, has recorded four straight 20-win campaigns while in the conference. The Bruins won at least 20 games every season from 2004 through 2008. Former members College of Charleston (1991-95) and Southeastern Louisiana (1992-96) and UCF (1993-1997 also put together five straight 20-win seasons while Georgia State strung together four such years in a row, 2000-03.

Owls Continue Ascent
Although its program-best eight-game win streak ended with a loss to Georgia, Kennesaw State has not lost to a conference foe in more than a month. With wins against ETSU and USC Upstate last weekend, the Owls locked up the second seed for the A-Sun Championship. Sabrita Gulley earned A-Sun Player of the Week honors and Collegiate Volleyball Update ( tabbed her as a "Top Performer" for the week.

Unique Monique
Sophomore libero Monique Russell became the first Stetson volleyball player since 1997 to record 400 digs in a single season. She reached that milestone in Hatters' Saturday contest against Lipscomb. Russell now has 405 digs in 2010, the first Hatter since Melissa Roy 13 years ago to surpass the 400 mark, and is tied for second on the Stetson single-season list. Cindy Benge set the record with 455 digs in 1991; after totaling 19 digs in the Hatters' 5-set win against Bethune-Cookman, Russell needs 31 digs Saturday at FGCU to tie the record.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mercer Seniors Lead the Way to Championship

The battle between youth and experience exuded at the 2010 Atlantic Sun Conference Women’s Soccer Championship final with the Mercer Bears putting six seniors on the pitch, while only one Jacksonville Dolphin senior saw the field. However, through all of that experience for Mercer a freshman created the last image of the championship, scoring the decisive game-winner.

Nadja Kolliesuah only played in 16 games coming into Saturday’s showdown between the two top seeds and had tallied one goal up to that point, but a corner kick from Lizzy Shaughnessy deflected by Patricia-Anne Upson landed at the feet of the Columbus, Ohio native.

With one strike from the left side of the box Kolliesuah’s shot drove into the corner of the net past the diving Alexa Rooney as the freshman put the senior-laden Bears in front 1-0 only one minute into the second half.

“As a freshman, it was really exciting to score the game-winner in the A-Sun Championship game,” Kolliesuah said of the match-deciding shot. “Even if someone else had scored the goal for us it would have been extremely exciting, but I’m just glad that I could help out our team with the goal.”

Despite the strike from the freshman, Mercer’s seniors set the tone for the championship final with Kacie Hudson and Raschelle Riley disturbing the Dolphins offensive attack holding their offense to a minimal three shots, one of which on frame, while midfielders Shaughnessy and Kaelyn Horton possessed the ball for the Bears throughout the game and played great passes down the sidelines to forwards Sara Elliot and Lauren Johnson.

“All of our seniors were major contributors particularly today and we relied on them quite a bit this season,” Mercer head coach Grant Serafy stated of his seven seniors. “We were hard on them this whole year and they really came through today and I think was the difference in the game.”

For the Dolphins, they wrap their season up with a 13-5-2 record, but the future is bright for Jacksonville as they return ten of the starters from the A-Sun Final including all-tournament team members Courtney Conrad, Liz Fink and Lisa Hensley.

Serafy added of today’s opposition, “Jacksonville has a really talented team and a great coaching staff so they will rebound from this game and it’s not going to detract from their season at all because they accomplished a lot this year.”

This class of Mercer seniors has twice had to rebound from losses in A-Sun finals in their careers, but this time around the Bears upperclassmen came out victorious with the program’s first A-Sun Championship.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dolphins Taking Advantage of Home Field Advantage

One of the popular axioms in sports is "Defend the home turf." Sports apparel companies have even built entire ad campaigns around "Defending this House." For the past 13 months and 14 home games, the Jacksonville women's soccer team has adhered to that saying and in Friday's Atlantic Sun Championship semifinal, they gave their fans of excuses to get riled up, shutting out the reigning champions, Kennesaw State, 3-0.

That win extended a home unbeaten streak that dates back 14 matches, to last season's regular-season meeting with Kennesaw State. The Dolphins won that meeting by a 3-1 margin beginning a run during which time, they boast a 10-0-4 mark and have outscored the opposition by a staggering 28-5 count (21-2 in nine matches this season). Ten of the contests have finished in shutouts.

By virtue of finishing as top seed, Jacksonville earned the right to host the semifinals and title game, something it has never done in the A-Sun. The players and their fans had to sit through more than a hour delay due to afternoon rain that befell the city before the first semifinal. For at least one game, playing in front of the home crowd proved to be a welcome change from the years of road trips and hostile venues.

"Being a senior and having everybody here, all your fans - even with the rain delay - you can't explain it, your heart is racing, everything is good" senior JU defender Devon Dowell said. "It's different to play at home; you bring out the fans and everyone wants to play for your home team. Your family is there; you have your friends, all your play for them, you play for your teammates."

As fate should have it, the team that last emerged from the visitors dressing room and returned home with a victory against Jacksonville will be the Dolphins opponent in Saturday's title tilt. Better than 13 months ago, Mercer pulled out a 1-0 victory on a header by All-Atlantic Sun defender Kacie Hudson. The Bears and Dolphins would meet again in an A-Sun Championship first-round match later that month and the Dolphins advanced following a shootout.

"It's great to play in front of the home crowd - I really think the campus and the community has rallied around this team and really has come up to support and make noise," Jacksonville head coach Brian Copham, the 2010 A-Sun Coach of the Year said.

Schools hosting the A-Sun Women's Championship have enjoyed great success in the 16 previous playings of the event. In 12 of those years, the school hosting the title match was in that game and in eight they emerged as the champion. The Dolphins have played for five A-Sun Women's Soccer Championships, never as the home team. In three they went up against the host, winning once, (2000, at FAU).

"When you've got a couple hundred people that are your fans at a conference tournament, or championship game, I think it's always in your favor to have the crowd behind you," Copham said. "It always lifts you up when you're tired, pushes you on, urges you for that goal. Anytime you've got a chance to play for a title, people want to come out and see it. I think they will respond, it will be the only thing...on campus this weekend and I think there will be a lot of fans to make some noise, and a lot of the other athletes that are rallying behind us and hopefully going to push us to a conference championship."

Redemption on Minds of Bears as They Return to Finals

Thirty-one days ago, Stetson and Mercer met in a regular-season contest and the Hatters came away with a 5-1 home victory against the Bears in which they led 4-0 at halftime. Fast forward to the 2010 A-Sun Championship Semifinal showdown between the two and a different story was to be told.

“That Stetson loss was a real big eye-opener for us and ever since then we knew we had to come out and play our hardest in every single game,” All-Atlantic Sun defender Kacie Hudson mentioned of the earlier loss to the Hatter.

This time, the Bears dominated the opening half behind three goals from All-Conference members Olivia Tucker and Sarah Elliot as well as junior Emerald Phillips to give Mercer the upper hand and ultimately enact revenge for the earlier loss.

“We were just ready to have another shot at them and we came in extremely prepared for them and the result is exactly what we were dreaming about,” Hudson added.

After adding two more goals in the second half from the feet of Tucker and Elliot, the Bears
claimed the largest margin of victory in an A-Sun Championship game since 2000.

“This win serves as a little bit of redemption for the team because we had a bit of a dip in the middle of the season and we knew that wasn’t an example of the type of team we are,” Serafy stated of the three losses from Sept. 24th to Oct. 3rd. “I give the players a lot of credit because they overcame a lot of adversity and they showed a lot of hard work and enthusiasm at the end of the season.”

The 5-0 victory now sets up head coach Grant Serafy and the Bears for their third A-Sun Championship Final appearance in the past four seasons, where they are winless in program history. For a team that boasts seven seniors on the roster, the two losses in the championship game are still fresh in their memory and this time they expect to be on the winning end.

“We set a goal for ourselves at the beginning of the year to capture the A-Sun Championship,” Hudson proclaimed. “To make it to the finals in previous seasons was great, but this season we are looking to take the championship home.”

The Bears now get their shot to claim the school’s first A-Sun Women’s Soccer Championship after falling in 2007 to Kennesaw State, 2-1, and Belmont the following year in penalty kicks.

The two-goal scorer, Tucker added, “We just have to win, there is no other thing that I want than to win the conference championship.”