UW striving to follow last year’s NCAA blueprint

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first_imgMATTHEW KUTZ/Herald photoIn 2004, a UW volleyball squad that wasn’t supposed to do much in the NCAA tournament ended up knocking off second-ranked Hawaii en route to the Elite Eight.Seeing as most of that team has returned in 2005, expectations for the Badgers are high.”We’ve been waiting since the end of the NCAA tournament last year, training hard, getting ready for this time,” UW head coach Pete Waite said. “We’re thrilled that we’re home because our fans get to watch us one last weekend. We’re ready to go.”Wisconsin (23-6) begins its 2005 tournament in familiar fashion, repeating last year’s first round with an opening match against Loyola (Ill.) tonight at the Field House. The winner of the match will proceed to the second round Saturday against the victor of the Cal-Valparaiso matchup.The Badgers, who enter the tourney with a No. 11 seed, were able to dismiss Loyola with ease last season, prevailing in three games 30-27, 30-26, 30-25.Loyola has made some changes in the past year and shown some struggles this season. The Ramblers (13-17) are the only competitors in the 64-team draw with a losing record.But since Loyola won seven of its last eight regular-season matches and earned a spot in the tournament by winning the Horizon League Tournament, Waite knows this first match could be a trap game.”It’s a hot team. It’s a team that must be playing their best at this time of year, and that’s what every coach wants,” Waite said. “They’re scrappy, a smaller team than ours. We’re going to have to adjust to their style.”The Badgers were rewarded not just for their success during conference play — they earned sole possession of second place in the Big Ten with a 15-5 conference mark — but also for their lofty attendance figures by gaining home-court advantage for the first two rounds.Waite said the team will be able to obtain the full benefit of opening weekend due to the excitement of the Field House faithful.”It’s a huge difference. The crowd just gets you going when you’re down, and when you’re up, they push you even faster and farther to finish the game and the match,” he explained. “The team just gets a little more charged up when they’re on their own floor. They can stay in a similar routine to the whole season.”Granted that UW holds a considerable advantage in blocking going into tonight’s match (3.5 blocks per game against Loyola’s 1.95), Shelia Shaw admitted her all-Big Ten honor is rendered meaningless once the postseason begins.”Once you start in the NCAA tournament, every team has a clean slate,” Shaw said. “It doesn’t matter what you’ve accomplished in the past because you have to come out prepared to battle in every match.”Loyola coach Marcie Bomhack agreed with Waite in announcing that her team is not focusing on its overall record, but more so on its recent win streak.”All that matters is that we won our conference tournament,” Bomhack said. “We’ve been playing great volleyball at the end of the season, so we feel fortunate to be here right now and playing our best volleyball at the end of the season, which is how it should go.”Looking ahead to the second round: Should the Badgers take care of business against Loyola, UW would likely face a worthy opponent in unseeded but No.16-ranked California (18-10) in the second round Saturday night.But, first, the Golden Bears take on the Valparaiso Crusaders (27-7) tonight, preceding the Badgers’ opening match.”I’m pretty pleased to be here in Madison,” Cal head coach Rich Feller said. “This is a great volleyball town. I’m pretty excited about coming to the hotbed of Midwest volleyball.”Junior setter Samantha Carter of the Golden Bears knows the Crusaders — like Loyola — is a smaller school that would love nothing more than to knock off a giant power like Cal in a major upset.”Our coaches prepared us [by reminding] us that we constantly have targets on our backs, being a ranked team coming into the NCAA,” Carter said. “Playing a team like Valparaiso isn’t scary, but you know they want to beat the big teams in the Pac-10. We just need to go out there and play one game at a time and take care of tomorrow’s match first.”The Crusaders, led by head coach Carin Avery, participated in the InnTowner Invitational earlier this year, so they have gained a slight amount of experience with the UW atmosphere.”We’re very excited to be in Madison again,” Avery said. “After playing here in last year’s NCAA postseason and in the [InnTowner] Tournament this past September, we feel like we have a bit of home-court advantage over California, which is great.”last_img

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