Grizzlies venture into RMAC Tournament for first time since '03
by Chris Day
KEARNEY, Neb.ó Uncharted territory.
That is where the third-year Adams State College head volleyball coach Lindy Mortensen and her squad enter this weekend as the Grizzlies play in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Tournament, starting Friday here in the University of Nebraska-Kearneyís Health & Sports Center.
Mortensen, nor any of her 15 players, have ever qualified for the 8-team affair. In fact, assistant coach Chelsea Harmon is the only Grizzly with that experience doing so every year during her 1999-2003 career as a player at Western State.
Although they are not as experienced as some of the others in the tournament, the Grizzlies are certainly hungry and come in as one of the hottest teams around. Winners of five of their last six, the seventh-seeded Grizzlies will be looking to avenge their only loss in that stretch against No. 2 seed Fort Lewis.
The quarterfinal match begins at 2:30 p.m. (CST) and can be heard on KSPK-FM (103.5 & 104.1 in Alamosa) and via the internet at www.kspk.com. The winner will face either No. 3 seed UC-Colorado Springs or No. 6 seed Mesa State in Saturdayís semifinals at 5 p.m. (CST). Sundayís championship match will begin at 3 p.m. (CST), Sunday.
ASC last went to the RMAC Tournament in 2003 and won a quarterfinal match over Mesa State in that trip before bowing out to Nebraska-Kearney in the semifinals.
Since then, the Grizzlies have suffered through three sub-par years but have responded from a 5-23 2006 campaign to post solid and winning 14-13 overall and 10-9 RMAC records.
A large part of the turn-around can certainly be attributed to sophomore outside hitter Andrea Tuck (Erie, Colo.) who garnered First Team All-RMAC honors earlier this week. Tuck has put down 451 kills this year and leads the RMAC in points (506.5) and points per game (4.92). Sitting out the 2006 season after transferring from Metro State, Tuck has been playing especially well as of late recording 83 kills in the last four matches alone.
The 6-footer is far from the only reason for ASCís recent success. Another newcomer in setter Mary McNeil (Phoenix, Ariz.) has also played superbly. The Paradise Valley High School graduate had a career-high 67 assists in ASCís regular season finale at Western State on Nov. 2 and recorded 60 and her first career triple-double six days prior in a 5-game heartbreaker with Fort Lewis. She already has an ASC freshman-record 1,163 assists this year, the fourth best single-season in ASCís history.
Sophomore middle blocker Darcy Jennings (Lakin, Kan.) and senior right side hitter Brittany Muchmore (Peoria, Ariz.) have also had a strong impact on the 2007 squad. Jennings leads the RMAC with 130 blocks and earned Second Team All-RMAC honors this week. She had picked up honorable mention accolades in 2006. Perhaps, ASCís best overall player, Jennings is second on the team in kills and service and is third in digs She also leads the squad with her .274 hitting percentage.
Muchmore, who will be playing in her 92nd career match on Friday, has 259 kills in her senior campaign that she and the Grizzlies do not want to see end too early. An Honorable Mention All-RMAC selection who is hitting .234 this year, she currently ranks sixth on ASCís NCAA Division II era (1992-Present) career kills chart with 755.
Muchmore has had 10 or more kills in each of her last five matches, yet another reason for ASCís turn-around that has seen the team win seven of nine after dropping six of the previous seven matches.
The Skyhawks (21-6, 17-2 RMAC) are tearing it up even more so than the Grizzlies but do have the task of trying to beat a team for the third time staring them right in the face. FLCís most recent victory over the Grizzlies came just two weeks ago and was decided by just two points in the fifth game.
That certainly weighs heavily on the minds of and is strong motivation for Mortensen and her players. Mortensen also has some even deeper incentive as her daughter Annie is the Skyhawksí top assistant coach.
The Skyhawks have won eight straight matches and won a share of the overall RMAC title for the first time since 1989. They also have revenge on their minds as they dropped an Oct. 6 home match to Nebraska-Kearney, their only loss in two months. That loss gave the right to host the tournament to the Lopers, something the Skyhawks would have certainly loved to do.
FLC is a veteran squad with six seniors, including middle blocker Nicole Schwab, named as the RMAC Player of the Year for the second straight time earlier this season. Schwab had 18 kills and nine blocks while hitting .438 in the last match with the Grizzlies.
Contending for the RMAC blocking title with Jennings and the points title with Tuck, Schwab is far from alone.
Sophomore setter Melissa Childs was also a First Team All-RMAC pick and is second in the RMAC with her 12.31 assist per game mark. Senior libero Adrianne Dettler was a Second Team All-RMAC pick and is just six digs shy of 500. Senior outside hitter Sara Feehan also earned second team honors and is averaging 3.92 digs and 2.69 kills per game.
The Skyhawks are ranked third in this weekís NCAA Division II Southwest Regional Rankings and are almost certainly heading to the national tournament for the second straight year. They can seal that bid by winning the tournament, which carries with it an automatic qualification, likely the only way the Grizzlies would advance past this weekend.