Women's Volleyball |
Nov. 3, 2010
By Shawn Sell
When the Bearcats dropped a four-set match to nationally-ranked and eventual BIG EAST Champion St. John's on Oct. 7, 2007, the team absorbed its second home loss of the season. The first home setback that year came to another powerhouse in eventual national runner-up Stanford. But what no one knew then was that year's freshmen class of Annie Fesl, Julie Guenther, Stephanie Niemer and Lindsay Upton would never lose inside Fifth Third Arena again.
The streak is well documented. After cruising past Villanova on Senior Day last Sunday, UC's four seniors put an exclamation point on a nearly perfect career on their home floor. The victory stretched the Bearcats' home court winning streak to 39, the second longest active such stretch nationally behind perennial powerhouse Penn State. The run started with the final two home matches of 2007 and continued over three consecutive perfect seasons, leaving the seniors with a career home record of 46-2. For Fesl, a two-year team captain, those two losses aren't even a memory and just paved the way for a high standard set by the team.
"It's our home, where we feel comfortable and play our best," she says. "We just didn't want anyone to beat us at home. We set a standard and kept to it."
For UC head coach Reed Sunahara, confidence has been the key to the winning streak.
"It's a group of confident kids," the coach says. "After their first year they set their minds to being the best they can be and I think they have done a nice job of taking care of business (at home)."
This group of seniors is special, both individually and collectively. Following a string of six consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament which ended with the 2004 appearance, the seniors barely know what it's like to miss the big dance, having qualified all but one year. Along the way, they have also won the first BIG EAST Championship in team history and scored the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament triumph. The senior class's success can be attributed to a couple of factors according to Sunahara.
"They all know what their roles are," he says. "The key to all of those kids is they have become more well-rounded as volleyball players. Take Niemer; she started off as just a front row player and now the past three years, she has played all six rotations. I think her confidence level has gone way up and it shows in her play. With Fesl, she is our captain and our quarterback and sets the ball where we need it. With Upton, she is a utility player and we stick her in where we need her and she somehow gets the job done. She started off starting in the middle for us and now she is a defensive specialist and you kind of go `how did that happen?' But somehow she finds her way on the court."
Because of scheduling, Senior Day came earlier for the Bearcats than usual this season and the team still has some lofty goals to achieve, like winning the BIG EAST Tournament and advancing to at least the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Even with lots of volleyball still to be played, Fesl was able to reflect on the success her and her classmates have enjoyed.
"To be able to say that we had three perfect seasons at home was something I never thought I would say," she states. It's surreal and just awesome."
THE MAN BEHIND THE SCENES
When the Bearcats celebrated Senior Day on Oct. 31, the careers of Fesl, Guenther, Niemer and Upton were recognized. But the fifth member of that class and easily the least well known was also honored. Jeff Foltz, a four-year student manager for the Bearcats joined the other seniors in a post-match celebration.
Foltz, a Cincinnati native and graduate of McNicholas High, has been labeled by Sunahara as "the best manager I've ever had." And his contributions, albeit behind the scenes have been vital to the program's success.
"At first, I think he was just enjoying the ride, but now I think he is really into it and wants us to be successful," Sunahara says. "I think for him it means a lot for us to be successful. What he has done for us really helps. It takes every single one of us for this program to be successful and I appreciate all his contributions."
For Foltz, who says he specializes in doing "the little things, the odds and ends things," he will look back with fond memories on his time with the Bearcat Volleyball program.
"(I will remember) the amazing experiences and the great opportunity that I was given by Reed and the rest of the coaching staff," he says. "I've met so many good friends here that I know I will keep forever. All the experiences traveling everywhere like Brazil and Hawaii have been just awesome."