Virginia Volleyball Prepares for UCLA
December 2, 1998
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — It took nearly 20 seasons to accomplish, but the NCAA Tournament has become a reality for the University of Virginia volleyball team. After putting together one of the finest seasons in school history this year, UVa is headed to the 1998 NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship.
Virginia currently stand 26-7 overall on the season. The 26 wins is the most victories in a season by a UVa volleyball team in the 1990’s, and the second most wins in a season ever in school history. The 1989 team finished the season 29-10. This seasons team finished 12-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, won two regular season tournament and advanced to the semi-finals of the ACC Championship as the number two seed. UVa’s 12 conference wins shattered the previous mark of seven victories set by the ’96 squad. All of these accomplishments came from a team that was predicted to finish seventh in the preseason coaches poll in the ACC.
Virginia advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the history of the program after receiving an at-large bid. UVa is one of 34 schools to earn an at-large bid, one of 10 schools making its first ever NCAA tournament appearance and one of four teams from the ACC to make the tournament this year.
“It’s a huge honor to be one of the 64 teams out of the 302 teams in the nation to be selected to participate in the tournament, says Virginia head volleyball coach Melissa Aldrich Shelton. “We really feel like we have a lot to prove and it would be nice to show the NCAA that our bid, and all the bids that the ACC received are deserving.”
The championship field of 64 teams will feature 16 first and second round matches from December 3-6. Winners will advance to play in four regional tournaments (Dec. 10-13). The first and second round and regional matches are set to be played on the campuses of one of the participating institutions. The four regional winners will meet for the championship on December 17 and 19 at the University of Wisconsin in the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.
The Cavaliers will travel to Santa Barbara, Calif. to compete against UCLA (15-11) in the first round on December 5. The match is scheduled to begin at 6:00 p.m. local time. This will be the first meeting between the two schools. The Bruins 11 losses may be deceiving on paper however, as all 11 loses came against teams that have made this years tournament field. After opening the ’98 season with an 0-6 start, UCLA went on to win 15 of its last 20 matches. The Bruins finished the regular season ranked No. 15 in the AVCA/USA Today poll.
UCLA is no stranger to postseason tournaments, as the Bruins are making their 17th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The 1996 UCLA squad was the only team to fall short of making the tournament. The Bruins have won six national championships in their 31 years of post-season competition, including three championship titles since NCAA play began in 1981. UCLA holds a 120-23 record in all post season action and is 47-14 (.771) in the NCAA Tournament.
“UCLA is a young team this season, but they are very strong,” says Shelton. “We have gone into this week trying to upgrade our defense and our blocking because PAC-10 teams like UCLA are some of the biggest teams in relation to height and jumping. We’ve been preparing to face strong hitters and are ready to dig some hard hit balls. If we can do that, I feel we have a shot at winning because we have the balance and determination that’s needed to achieve that. The Bruins have some amazing outside hitters in Ashley Bowles and Kristee Porter. The are both freshman that have really came on as the year has moved along. We are going to have to defend successfully against them if we want to win this match.”
UC Santa Barbara (26-5), the host institution, will play Santa Clara (20-9) 45 minutes following the UVa/UCLA match. The winners of both the matches will advance to play on Sunday, (Dec. 6) in the second round match which is scheduled to begin at 4:00 p.m. If Virginia advances to the second round, it would also be the first meeting with either UC Santa Barbara and Santa Clara.
Virginia has four players from the state of California. Whitney Bilger (The Bishops School (Coast)/La Jolla, Calif.), Andrea Fischer (Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara)/Santa Barbara, Calif.), Amanda Wells (Marlborough (Westside)/Los Angeles, Calif.) and Kristi Winters (Los Altos (City Beach)/Los Altos, Calif.) make up UVa’s “California Connection.”
Virginia is 5-4 against teams they have played this season that are in the NCAA tournament field. UVa is 1-0 against Pepperdine and Georgetown, 1-1 against North Carolina and Clemson and 1-2 against Florida State this season.
Four teams from the ACC will compete in the NCAA Tournament this season. Joining Virginia from the conference is Florida State, (25-10) the ACC’s automatic qualifier after claiming the ACC Championship with a 3-0 win over North Carolina. The Tar Heels (28-7), who finished first in the ACC regular season received an at-large bid, as did Clemson (21-10) who advanced to the ACC semi-finals before falling to UNC.
Virginia jumped out to an 11-1 record to start the season, riding on a season-high nine match winning streak and did not stop there. The Cavaliers competed in three regular season tournaments this season, and came away with first place finishes in two of them. First, UVa traveled to Annapolis, Md. to compete in the 1998 Navy Trident Classic. The Cavaliers won three of their four matches as they defeated Buffalo (3-0), Navy (3-0) and Loyola (3-0). Virginia’s only setback was a tough 3-2 loss to tournament champion Minnesota. Third-year setter Mary Frances Scott was named to the All-Tournament team as she recorded 172 assists, 26 digs and 13 kills for the Cavaliers in the tournament.
UVa then headed to Malibu, Calif. to compete in the 1998 Pepperdine Tournament. The Cavaliers won all three matches by defeating Pepperdine (3-2), Akron (3-1) and UC Irvine (3-1) en route to the tournament title. Andrea Fischer, Jessica Parsons and Scott were named to the All-Tournament team for UVa. Parsons was selected as the tournament MVP.
Fresh off its tournament win in Malibu, Virginia returned to Charlottesville to host the 1998 Jefferson Cup Invitational. UVa breezed through their first two matches as they defeated VCU (3-0) and Cornell (3-0) before facing Georgetown in the championship match. The Cavaliers defeated the Hoyas 3-1, claiming their second tournament championship of the season and lifting their season-high win streak to nine matches. Deanna Zwarich, Parsons and Scott were named to the All-Tournament. Parsons gathered tournament MVP honors for the second time this season.
After opening the ACC portion of its schedule with a loss at Wake Forest, Virginia would go on to win 12 of its remaining 15 conference matches. UVa head volleyball coach Melissa Aldrich Shelton felt if the Cavaliers could protect their home court and finish .500 on the road in the ACC, UVa could finish in the top third of the conference. Virginia did just that, and UVa finished 8-0 at home and 4-4 on the road in the ACC. In fact, the Cavaliers found success no matter where they played, as they finished 13-1 at home (.929), 8-4 on the road (.667) and 5-2 on neutral sites (.714) this season.
Aside from putting together a great season as a team, several individuals on this years squad have put together an outstanding ’98 champaign. Jessica Parsons is having the best season of her three year career. This year, her list of honors include: First-Team All ACC, All-ACC Tournament selection, MVP of both the Jefferson Cup Tournament and the Pepperdine Tournament and ACC Co-Player of the Week (11/16). She has developed into one of UVa’s top players.
Mary Frances Scott was named to the All-Tournament team for her performances in the Navy Trident Classic, Pepperdine Tournament and the Jefferson Cup Tournament. The third-year setter became Virginia’s all-time assists leader when she recorded her 30th assist against Minnesota on September 4th, breaking the mark held by Lisa Flowers (3,071). Entering the 1998 season, Scott ranked third all-time at Virginia with 2965 assists. She now holds the all-time assists record with 4527 career assists (as of 12/3/98). Scott’s 1,562 assists this season is the third highest total ever in a season at UVa. She is also sixth on the all-time list for digs in a career at UVa with 1,029.
Claire Folga was named Second Team All-ACC and gathered ACC Co-Player of the Week honors (10/5). Her 1,038 career digs places her fourth and her 977 career kills moves her into fifth on the all-time list at UVa, making her one of the most complete players to ever suit-up in the Amanda Wells also earned Second Team All-ACC honors, and teammate Andrea Fischer was named to the All-Tournament team in the Pepperdine Tournament and Deanna Zwarich was selected to the All-Tournament team in the Jefferson Cup Tournament.
Virginia has a tough task at hand as it enters untested waters in the NCAA Tournament. But one thing is for sure, the ’98 Cavaliers have shown all season long that they are a program with much to be proud of. The Cavaliers have reached new heights, how much further they will climb is yet to be seen.