Nov. 9, 2008
NEW ORLEANS - At the outset of the 2008 volleyball season, the Tulane University volleyball team took the court with high expectations and set even higher goals.
Entering the year as the favorite to win the regular-season Conference USA crown, the Green Wave made the preseason prognosticators look good on Sunday as Tulane clinched at least a share of the league title with a 3-0 victory over C-USA foe, Tulsa, at Fogelman Arena.
With the 25-19, 25-22, 25-22 victory, the Green Wave ran their win streak to 11 straight and posted their 23rd consecutive win at home. The C-USA title is the first conference championship in the 33-year history of the Tulane program as the Green Wave improved to 22-5 on the year and 13-1 in C-USA play. Tulsa, meanwhile fell to 21-9 overall and 8-7 in league action.
"While I am extremely excited for this squad and the season we are putting together thus far, this news is a milestone for the Tulane University volleyball program," Tulane head coach Liz Kritza said. "When I took over as head coach back in 2005, this is where I truly believed the Green Wave volleyball program should be - at the top of the conference and the region, and garnering national attention. I am proud that this group of players and coaches has shared that same expectations and most importantly they know that we have a lot of work to do to continue to achieve our common goals."
Tulane entered Sunday's match knowing it controlled its own championship destiny after learning of UAB's Friday-night loss at Rice. Shortly after wrapping up the straight-sets win over the Golden Hurricane, word spread that Houston defeated the Blazers at the UH Athletics Alumni Center.
At 13-1 in C-USA play, Tulane can finish no worse than 13-3 in league action, which is the best possible record achievable by both Rice (21-5, 12-3) and UAB (22-5, 12-3) at this point in the year. The Green Wave can now lock up the No. 1 seed in the 2008 C-USA Tournament with a single victory in two tries next weekend against UTEP.
"I will be first to caution everyone to not look too much into this and stay focused on the reasons why we are able to share in this honor with two matches still remaining in the season, our continual improvement," Kritza said. "This season is just now getting to the most critical part leading up to postseason play and we are looking at this as just the beginning, rather than the finale. We have two very important conference matches coming up next week and then the crucial Conference USA Tournament, to earn another milestone - our first NCAA tournament appearance."
Junior right-side hitter Ksenija Vlaskovic and freshman outside hitter Visnja Djurdjevic tied for match-high kill honors with 12 each and the Green Wave hit .348 as a team after posting 54 kills and just 15 errors in 112 swings. Vlaskovic connected at a .474 clip after committing just three miscues in 19 tries. Senior outside hitter Sara Radosevic was next for Tulane with 11 kills, while senior right-side hitter Bridget Wells followed closely with nine.
Junior libero Jenn Miller led the Green Wave with 11 digs, while Djurdjevic posted her second consecutive double-double with 10 digs to go with her kill total. Tulane out-blocked Tulsa, 8.0-5.0, including a five block assist performance by senior middle blocker Jen Linder.
"When we were in system and had all of our weapons firing, then we were able to score at the proper percentage," Kritza said. "In siding out, we were a little low today and I have to give credit to them for picking apart our serve-receive a little bit and playing good defense against our strongest offensive weapon. Overall, hitting .348 as a team is a good sign.
"We had three players with double-digit kills and individual offensive performances were pretty good. This team is continually working on being more defensive minded, and that was the difference today. When we started blocking properly and playing better floor defense, that is when we were able to put runs of points together and eventually found our success."
Tulane scored the first three points of the match and never trailed in set No. 1. The lead swelled to as many as nine at 21-12 and the Green Wave withstood a late Tulsa rally to claim a six-point opening-set victory.
The next two sets were a very different story, however, as both stanzas became a race to five as the teams were deadlocked at 20-all on each occasion. In the second set, the Golden Hurricane stormed out to a 14-9 advantage and led18-14 later in the contest. The Wave rallied with a 6-2 run to tie the set at 20-20 and outscored Tulsa 5-2 the rest of the way to take a 2-0 advantage in the match.
It appeared early in the third set that Tulane was going to run away with things as the Green Wave jumped out to a 5-1 lead. Tulsa hung tough and eventually tied things up at 11-all, but the Wave never relinquished the lead. Tulane reclaimed the lead courtesy of a 7-4 rally before the Hurricane answered with a 4-2 streak to even the contest at 20. Following a Tulane timeout, the Green Wave used another 5-2 run to clinch the match and as well as the share of the C-USA crown.
"This was a hard-earned victory and a hard-earned sweep at that," Kritza said. "Tulsa is a very good team. They are better than their record shows. They battled some injuries early on and when we played them earlier in the season at their place, one of their better players (Beth Hodge) was not playing. She played tonight and it made a clear different to their team and the level of volleyball that they could plan. We expected them to come in and put forth a much stronger performance than when we played them at their place. They pushed us to the limit today and we really did not get very many easy points today.
"To be able to come away with a win in three sets while going through some tougher periods of play during the match is exactly what we want at this phase of the season. We want to stay focused on continual improvement and getting ready for the conference tournament, and hopefully postseason play. Right now, you want to be playing teams that help your team improve in certain areas, and Tulsa is certainly one of them. They are well coached. They have a good set of overall skills and I think they put forth a good performance."
Jennifer Eichler led Tulsa with 11 kills while Hodge was close behind with nine. Rachel Vukson led all players with 30 assists, Malorey Grove tied Miller for match-high dig honors with 11 of her own, and the quartet of Eichler, Hannah Stout, Julia Kenealy and Kelsey Hancock tallied two blocks each.
The Green Wave return to action on Friday, when they travel to El Paso, Texas, for an 8 p.m. showdown with C-USA foe UTEP before returning to New Orleans on Sunday, for a 1 p.m. contest against the Miners at Fogelman Arena. Following next Sunday's match, Tulane will hold a special ceremony honoring its seven-member senior class of Linder, Radosevic, Wells, Luna Rebrovic, Liz McGehee, Ashley Bernards and Lauren Boatwright. For ticket information, contact the Tulane University Athletics Ticket Office at 504-861-WAVE.