2001 Season In Review
The goal for the Cincinnati volleyball team for the 2001 season was to reach national prominence. By most measurements, the Bearcats put themselves on the volleyball national map during the 2001 campaign.
The Bearcats won their first outright Conference USA regular season championship, reached the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year and won a postseason tournament game for the first time in four tries. They also finished the year ranked first in the region, earned their first win over a ranked team and came within one notch of earning their first appearance in the Top 25. All this while on the way to their seventh-straight 20-win season and while starting two freshmen.
"I thought we had a good year," said head coach Reed Sunahara. "It all came together for us at the right times. This team worked extremely hard and didn't let anything stop them from reaching their goals."
A big part of Sunahara's plan to increase the level of play of the Bearcats was to strengthen their non-conference schedule. After opening the season with a pair of wins at the Molten Golden Gate Classic in San Francisco, UC headed to Hawaii to begin a stretch in which they would play ranked opponents in three of their next four matches. At the Aston Imua Wahine Challenge sixth-ranked USC and 10th-ranked Hawaii, as well as Utah State, showed UC the level of play needed to be nationally-recognized, all beating the Bearcats.
UC finally got to play at home, but it was against No. 15 Ohio State. The Bearcats suffered their fourth straight loss and headed into Conference USA play at 2-4. They were struggling not just from playing some of the top teams in the country but also with integrating freshmen Julie DuPont and Becky Stahl into the lineup. Additionally, UC was coping with setter Laura Lauder's recovery from off-season knee surgery. Heading into the conference opener at Charlotte, Sunahara finally felt the team had its rotation set.
The positive results were not immediate, however, as UC dropped its C-USA opener for the first time in three years to a Charlotte team it should have beaten easily. Sunahara stuck with his decisions and the team rewarded him by turning the season around in a way no other UC team had ever done.
UC defeated East Carolina on the road two days later and then won three-straight matches at home, including a victory against regionally-ranked Western Kentucky. The Bearcats faced their first real in-conference test when they took on defending C-USA champion South Florida. UC won easily on USF's own floor in three games. The Bearcats' win streak reached six at UAB, which set up the most anticipated match on the schedule, a visit to No. 22 Louisville.
The Cardinals, UC's top rival, were picked to win the conference. The Bearcats, who had never beaten a ranked team before, looked nervous at the start, dropping the first two games. They rebounded, however, shocking the Louisville crowd by winning the next three games to take the match.
The streak reached nine the following weekend when UC topped first-place DePaul and Marquette in the Shoemaker Center to pass the Blue Demons for the top spot in the C-USA standings. In the DePaul match, Trish Ladusaw became UC's all-time digs leader in just her third season.
The Bearcats kept rolling, taking two more on the road and winning four-straight at home to tie the school record for consecutive wins at 15. They topped the mark at Marquette, clinching the Conference USA championship in the process.
After setting the record, UC had to come home to face a Louisville team looking for revenge. The Cardinals got it, ending the winning streak at 16 in a dominating performance. After closing the home season with an impressive win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the top-seeded Bearcats headed to Houston for the C-USA Tournament.
UC opened with a 3-0 win over No. 8 seed Memphis, starting slow but dominating the final two games. Next came No. 5 DePaul, which had just dispatched of the host team, No. 4 Houston. The Blue Demons came out on fire and defeated the Bearcats in four games. DePaul went on to win the tourney title.
The C-USA/Atlantic10 Challenge in Louisville provided Cincinnati with the opportunity to solidify its chances of earning a berth in the NCAA tournament. The Bearcats made the most of this chance by handily defeating Dayton and Xavier in three-game matches.
When the Bearcats found out they made the NCAA tourney, they also discovered the NCAA had a sense of humor. UC was slated to face crosstown rival Xavier for the second time in a week, this time in Columbus, Ohio.
UC, making its third-straight trip to the tourney, earned its first tourney win by defeating the Musketeers in four games. Next up were the Buckeyes, ranked 10th in the country and seeded No. 13 in the tournament. UC rebounded to win game two, but a close OSU win in game three led to a 3-1 win for the home team.
The Bearcats finished the year ranked No. 1 in the Midwest region by the AVCA and 30th in the final USA Today/AVCA Coaches' Poll. UC was also No. 14 in the NCAA's final RPI rankings, boasting the ninth-toughest non-conference schedule in the nation.
"I think this year's team was one of the best ever at UC, if not the best," said Sunahara. "The good news is, we are young and now we've laid a good foundation for next year."
In 2001 the Cincinnati volleyball team reached the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in school history and third-straight year. Success in the tournament was tasted for the first time ever as the Bearcats defeated crosstown rival Xavier in the first round contest at Ohio State.
"The monkey's off our back," said head coach Reed Sunahara after the win. "I've been here three times with this team and tonight was our night to finally get one."
Next step: the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.
2001 Season Notes