Hot Bearcats Face Challenging BIG EAST Tourney Draw|
Nov. 16, 2011
By Shawn Sell
Since joining the BIG EAST in time for the 2005 season, the University of Cincinnati volleyball program has continued to build on a tradition of excellence established under longtime head coach Reed Sunahara. In each of the Bearcats' first six years as BIG EAST members, they have finished the regular season no lower than fourth in the league standings, including a pair of conference championships. This year has been no different as the second-seeded Bearcats head into tournament play this weekend at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
UC enters the championship event as the league's hottest team, having ripped off nine consecutive wins following back-to-back setbacks to Louisville and Seton Hall in mid-October. Despite the stellar play as of late, the Bearcats' road to their first-ever BIG EAST Tournament title will be a stiff one. For starters, UC must knock off a strong Villanova team for the second time in less than a week. A win will reward the Bearcats with either a meeting with tournament hosts Marquette on its home floor or a shot at revenge against Seton Hall. For now, Sunahara and his team won't look past a Villanova squad coached by former UC assistant Josh Steinbach.
"Our main focus right now is Villanova and if we can't get past them, it doesn't really matter," Sunahara says. "Villanova is a good team and they do some nice things. They have the leading digger in the nation (Kim Maroon) and she had 40 digs against us in five sets; that is incredible.
"It's always tough to beat a team twice so we have to be focused and prepared," he continues. "We have to make sure we are executing at a high-level."
The Bearcats will try to carry the momentum of a hard-fought win over the Wildcats in last Sunday's season-finale into the tournament opener. In that match, Villanova jumped out to a one set to none lead, only to see the Bearcats roar back for wins in sets two and three. UC couldn't hold a 23-22 lead in the fourth set, but made a big statement with a resounding 15-4 triumph in the fifth set. To get to the promised land and BIG EAST championship glory, Sunahara points to one thing that jumped out at him from the first meeting with Villanova.
"I thought we played good in spurts and did some good things throughout the match," he says. "If we can play with some kind of consistency then I think we can be successful."
The consistency the Bearcats have shown over the recent nine-match winning streak can be attributed, among other things, to the increased production from junior Jordanne Scott. After starting her career as a standout middle blocker, Scott began the 2011 campaign as an outside hitter, but the transition never really worked out. Finally, Sunahara flipped Scott to the right-side and from there, her season has really taken off. During the recent nine-match win streak, Scott has averaged 4.71 kills per set, while hitting a team-best .417. Her recent run has upped her season numbers to 3.45 kills per get, just behind team-leader Missy Harpenau's 3.50. Scott continues to pace the squad hitting at a .318 clip.
"I think Jordanne is becoming more comfortable with her position," Sunahara assesses. "We tried her on the left and she used to be a middle, but now she is playing right-side for us and I think she is just getting more comfortable. With that, she is putting up some big numbers and that is helping our team."
In the last two seasons, the Bearcats have found their way to the conference tournament finals each year, only to claim runner-up honors. They will look for the three-peat this weekend, but first they must get past a hungry Villanova team out for revenge. The Bearcats and Wildcats will square off at 4:30 p.m. ET on Friday.