Volleyball Playoff Preview

Thursday, November 7, 2013 - page 2
 

The changes that Nikki Dickson dreaded have helped bring about a change that she could not be happier about.

 

Joanne Josephson
Sophomore Joanne Josephson had nine kills in only 13 attempts in the regular-season match against McDaniel. She led the CC in blocks per set (1.05) in league matches.
Dickson and her teammates on the Muhlenberg volleyball team will travel to Franklin & Marshall for the Centennial Conference playoffs this weekend. The second-seeded Mules (19-11) face third-seeded McDaniel (19-6) in the second semifinal on Saturday at 3:30. Fourth-seeded defending champion Johns Hopkins (12-12), a 3-0 winner over Gettysburg in last night’s first-round match, squares off against Franklin & Marshall (24-5) in the first semi.

Saturday’s winners meet on Sunday in the 1:00 championship match, with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line.

 

Just three years ago, a semifinal match between Muhlenberg and McDaniel would have been hard to imagine. The two teams tied for last place in the CC in 2010, both finishing 2-8, and had overall records of 6-21 (Mules) and 3-21 (Green Terror). McDaniel, a CC runner-up as recently as 2007, went winless (0-25) for the entire season in 2011 and snapped a 23-match CC losing streak earlier this year.

The two semifinal opponents represent the changing landscape of CC volleyball. The same five teams (Johns Hopkins, F&M, Gettysburg, Swarthmore and Haverford) qualified for the playoffs every year from 2010 to 2012. This is the first time since the CC permanently instituted a postseason tournament in 2000 that Haverford did not make the field.

Muhlenberg began its ascent up the standings in 2011, going 5-5 and taking two playoff qualifiers to five sets. That was the same year Dickson, as a freshman, tied for the team lead in assists, only to learn that another good setter was recruited to join the team. After last year’s 17-11 season, the Mules brought in yet another setter.

“Obviously having recruits come in that play your position is a nerve-racking and a little annoying,” admitted Dickson. “But [they] really push you to get better and grow. It allows you to have better practices and more flexibility with the lineup.”

Depth at all positions has been a key for Muhlenberg this season. The Mules have eight players – tops among remaining playoff teams – averaging at least 1.00 kills per set. They are the only team in the CC to have three players averaging at least 0.70 blocks per set and the only playoff team to have four players with at least 30 aces.

Those numbers come from a young team that has six sophomores and two freshmen in its regular 10-player rotation.

 

Chelsea Kaser
Sophomore Chelsea Kaser is sixth in the CC in digs per set (3.87) and needs five more digs to become the seventh different Mule to record 400 in a season.
“Every game is an opportunity for us to learn – we’re still growing as a team,” said Dickson. “[Our improvement] is a product of us maturing and growing up and playing more together.”

The same can be said for Muhlenberg’s next opponent. McDaniel’s team consists entirely of freshmen and sophomores. So even though the Mules won fairly handily in three sets (25-15, 25-15, 25-23) when the two teams faced off in the regular season, that match played almost two months ago has little relevance to the playoff clash.

 

“It will be like playing a completely different team,” said Dickson. “As a young team they have matured very quickly and learned how to work together well. We really don’t know how they’re going to be.”

Except that they’ll be very competitive, as most matches in the CC have been in this wide-open season. McDaniel’s signature win was in four sets against Johns Hopkins (25-10 in the fourth). Johns Hopkins lost to non-playoff team Haverford and swept Gettysburg twice. Gettysburg was up 2-0 against Franklin & Marshall before losing in five. Franklin & Marshall won 27-25 twice in its four-set defeat of Muhlenberg.

“It’s a toss-up,” Dickson said of the championship tournament. “It’s going to be who wants it the most. It’s all about heart and dedication, putting what we do in practice onto the court and fighting for it.”