- Evening, Weekend & Online Programs
- ALUMNI RELATIONS
- GIVING TO LAKELAND
- ABOUT LAKELAND
With the Northern Athletics Conference Tournament upon them, the Lakeland College women's volleyball team is sizing up the competition with a familiar mindset - winning the conference title.
The Muskies, who made snagging the conference crown a habit from 2002-05, look to regain that achievement this season, and their success in the regular season suggests it's a more-than achievable goal.
The squad ran the table on the NAC this season with a perfect 12-0 record, has earned a Midwest Region ranking for three straight weeks (coming in at No. 8 last week) and compiled a 20-14 overall record. The big highlight of the Muskies' non-conference schedule was a 3-0 win Saturday over Stevens Institute (Hoboken, N.J.), ranked No. 17 in the national Top 25 poll and No. 1 in the New York Region, at the UW-Whitewater Tournament.
"That win vastly increased our chances of making the NCAA Tournament," said head coach Chad Schreiber. "Beating a No. 1 team from another region is a huge feat. It's a huge monkey off our back to get a win over a nationally-ranked team, and it was great to end our regular season on a win."
The top-seeded Muskies will open NAC Tournament play on Tuesday, Oct. 30, as they host a quarterfinal match against No. 8 Edgewood at 7 p.m.
The Muskies downed the Eagles fairly easily early in the season, 3-0 (30-13, 30-18, 30-26). However, they have not forgotten what happened last season, as the then-No. 3 seeded home squad was knocked out of the inaugural NAC Tournament in the first round by No. 6 Maranatha Baptist, 3-1.
"We're well aware of the fact that we lost in the first round last year," Schreiber said. "Our seniors do not want to go out without another conference championship after winning it their freshman and sophomore years. It's an important piece of the puzzle for us to return to winning conference."
Senior middle hitter Shelly Bruni, who has been an integral cog in the Muskies' diverse offensive attack this season, agrees, and knows that an early tournament exit is not an option.
"Last year was kind of a downer that we got beat out by Maranatha," Bruni said. "This year, as a senior, it's definitely a goal to go out at a much higher level. We know what to expect because we have played all of the teams before, and we know that if we win conference, we have a better chance of making the NCAA Tournament. That gives us more confidence and high spirits going in."
As a result of beginning fresh in a new conference last season with the NAC, the Muskies have had to endure a two-year wait to be eligible for an automatic bid for winning conference. This has given the squad's non-conference matches a heightened level of importance, as they needed to defeat regionally- and nationally-ranked teams to have a better chance of being considered for a Pool B bid, which includes institutions in conferences that do not meet the requirements for an automatic bid.
Lakeland's win over Stevens Institute gives the team that chance of earning a Pool B bid, as long as the Muskies take the NAC championship.
"Going into the weekend was exciting for us because we knew we needed to do some big things," said senior defensive specialist Rachel Young, as the UW-W Tournament was the squad's final shot at beating a regionally- or nationally-ranked team before the post-season. "Making the NCAA Tournament is the ultimate goal, and we were able to pull together and show what we're made of. Our defense was amazing, and once we were able to figure things out on offense, we put it all together."
In spite of the squad's first major victory over a nationally-ranked team this year, the Muskies aren't making NCAA Tournament travel plans just yet.
"We now feel like the conference tournament means even more because we have to win conference to have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament," Schreiber said. "We have to make winning a priority."
Young said the lingering disappointment over last season's tournament outcome combined with one more year of experience and mental toughness is a mixture that has put Lakeland in a position to succeed in this week's tournament.
"Being the No. 1 seed and having the confidence we gained with our play this past weekend leaves us with no question that we'll do what we need to do to win," Young said.
Tuesday's quarterfinal match winners will advance to the semifinals on Thursday, Nov. 1. If the Muskies defeat Edgewood, they will play the winner of the No. 4 Concordia Chicago/No. 5 Milwaukee School of Engineering match at home.
The NAC Final will be played on Saturday, Nov. 3, at the home of the highest remaining seed.