1997 Season In Review
Courage, character and conditioning were taken to the limit as the 1997 University of Cincinnati volleyball team completed one of the best campaigns in the program's 26 year history.
Cincinnati registered its third straight 20-win season when it went 21-13 overall, 12-4 in league and just missed earning a berth in the NCAA tournament when it lost in the Conference USA finals to Houston.
UC also surprised many with its success considering it only had an eight player squad and a new coaching staff. Cincinnati used that surprise and its recent tradition of winning to put together a year to remember.
In the past, squads depended on versatility and a strong middle attack to win, but the 1997 version focused on technique, defense and scrappy play.
Head coach Laura Alford had two of the most prolific attackers in school history back in Chrissy Smith and Becky Tenkman. She had experienced outside hitters Lauren Burny and Renee Scheidt back, and defensive specialist Katie Graham, transfer setter Carrie Smith and rookies Stephanie Meinig and Shantel Miller to round out the team.
Not one for writing the season off as a rebuilding year, Alford and the Bearcats dove into the season full force.
UC opened the campaign at the Nike/UOP Invitational in the Bearcats first ever volleyball trip to California. Cincinnati lost to New Mexico, preseason 10th-ranked Pacific and Cal State Sacramento, but came away with a better understanding of what it would take to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament.
The Bearcats finished first in the Loyola University Chicago/Kaepa Invitational, beating Loyola University Chicago and Southeast Missouri and losing to Northern Iowa.
In its home opener, UC beat Western Kentucky in a three-game match before returning to the road for its third and final invitational.
Cincinnati went 1-2 at the Radisson/Marshall Tournament with a win over Marshall and losses to Indiana and Virginia.
The Bearcats broke into the NCAA record books in their second home match of the season. UC blanked Chicago State, 15-0, 15-0, 15-0 to claim the NCAA record for fewest points allowed in a three-game match.
UC opened its third season of C-USA action with a loss at home to Louisville, but the Bearcats rebounded to beat Marquette and DePaul on the road to stand 7-7 overall and 2-1 in the league.
Following a five-game loss to cross-town rival Xavier, UC strung together five victories, including four over league opponents and two over divisional rivals.
The Bearcats rebounded from losses in mid-October to finish the month 2-1. UC then put together five more victories, including four against American Division foes, to close out the regular season.
The Bearcats hit a stride cruising to the Conference USA finals as the only team to win the minimum of three games in each match. UC beat Southern Miss and Tulane to extend its winning streak to seven before meeting Houstin in the finals. Cincinnati, a No. 4 seed, was the lowest seed ever to advance to the championship.
UC, playing its third match in three days, started strong against a Cougar team loaded with strength and depth. The Bearcats lost game one 16-14 after leading 10-4, but evened the match with a 15-12 win in game two. Houston battled back in game three to win 15-10, but whether it was exhaustion, both mental and physical, or a better team on that given day, the Bearcats surprise season came to an end with a 15-2 loss in game four.
Throughout the season UC had a balanced attack as four of the six attackers led the team in kills. Additionally, four different players earned all-tournament honors in the three tournaments. The Smith's were named to the Loyola Chicago/Kaepa all-tournament team, Burny to the Nike/UOP all-tournament team and Scheidt the Radisson/Marshall all-tournament team.
The Bearcats also took home their share of C-USA and District 6 honors. Tenkman earned first team all-conference, all-tournament, player of the week and preseason all-conference accolades from C-USA and earned Kaepa/AVCA All-District 6 honors for a second straight year. Chrissy Smith earned C-USA Third Team All-Conference and Preseason All-Conference accolades. Burny was named to the C-USA All-Tournament team and Graham garnered the inaugural C-USA Defensive Specialist of the Year award.
Individual success also fell to the Smith's. Chrissy finished a stellar four-year career as the second all-time kill leader. She amassed 1,546 kills and registered the fourth highest career hitting percentage, .315. Smith became just the second Bearcat in the program's history to register 1,500 kills.
Carrie Smith, in just her first season with the Bearcats, landed in the UC record books. She finished fourth in assists in a season (1,369), fifth in career assists and second in assists per game in a career (10.95).