(Argo Athletics Media Release)
SIOUX CITY, Iowa – As the University of Providence volleyball team arrived in Iowa on Sunday in advance of the National Tournament, head coach Arunas Duda reflects back on last year's team.
The 2018 Argos stalled in the first two matches of the National Tournament, dropping in straight sets to College of Idaho and Grand View. They got back on track in the 3rd match, defeating Milligan 3-0, but it wasn't enough to advance to the knockout round.
The parallel's between this year's and last year's team are eerily similar. Both teams won the Frontier Conference Tournament and were awarded a 17 seed in the National Tournament. But this year's Argos are hoping to build off the experience from last year as they attempt to forge a new path during this year's postseason run.
"Last year we were on a roll winning the conference tournament and we got to Nationals and we weren't ready for the speed of how fast things would be," Arunas Duda said. "We've been training hard and getting after it. The message this year has been we have to train like we're playing at the National Tournament because we'll be their soon enough. We've got to train at that speed and train at that level. The girls have done a really great job. "
The Argos arrived in Iowa two days before the National Tournament begins on Tuesday. The 32-team tournament was split into eight pools of 4. Each team will play everyone in their pool once on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The top two teams will advance to a 16 team single-elimination tournament on Friday and Saturday.
As the 17th seed in the National Tournament, the Argos have a tough pool schedule. They'll start off against #16 Oklahoma City (33-1) in a match that potentially could decide who advances to the knockout round. On Wednesday, they'll take on the #1 overall seed in the tournament with Park (28-3). The Argos will round out pool play against #32 Morningside (16-11) who received an automatic bid as the tournament host.
The Argos can't afford a slow start like last year in their opening match. The winner of the first match, which will take place at 12:00 p.m. on Tuesday, will likely be the team that advances to the knockout round.
"We have to do well in that first match," Duda said. "That's all we've been thinking about and that's all that we've been preparing for. We've been watching a lot of film and breaking them down. We're just trying to keep our girls at that level consistently. We'll be ready for it this year."
The Stars went undefeated (20-0) in the Sooner Athletic Conference this season. The teams have had two similar opponents; Cardinal Stitch and Lewis-Clark State. The Argos swept Cardinal Stritch early in the season while the Stars defeated them 3-1 in mid-October. The Stars also defeated Lewis-Clark State 3-0, while the Argos both swept them and got swept by them this season.
"That's a team that breezed through their conference and has blown out a lot of teams this year," Duda said. "You don't win 33 matches and not be a good opponent. They are going to be a battle."
The Stars are 5th in the nation in service aces per game (2.1), 6th in total aces (275), and 7th in assists per game (12.8). Sophomore setter Sophia Salak is 7th in the nation in assists per game (11.0) and 10th in total aces (60). The Argos will also need a plan to slow down junior outside hitter Lacy Beeler, who averages 3.6 kills per set.
"They've got some really-seasoned players," Duda said. "We know that they have a lot of strengths but they do some things that we match up well against. Some of our strengths match up against some of their strengths and some of our strengths match up against some of their weaknesses as well. We're really excited to see how we match up when it comes to match time."
However the Stars will have to have a plan for the Argos as well. Since the Argos switched to a 5-1 formation, they have rattled off seven straight victories. Four of the seven wins have been sweeps, including all three matches of the Frontier Conference Tournament.
The new formation allows for a more balanced attack. The Argos have five players with over 100 kills on the year. Senior outside hitter Kelsey Shaver leads the team with 387 kills and 4.6 kills per set, good for 6th in the nation. Jensyn Turner has 241 kills, Tyna William has 193, Ember Schwindt has 178 and Renae Davis has 107. Averi Dyer, who played a majority of the year at libero, has 86 kills on the year. Dyer also leads the team with 528 digs. Cydney Finberg-Roberts leads the team with 840 assists.
More importantly however, is the experience the team gained from last year's tournament.
"Having gone last year is huge," Duda said. "As much as we thought we were prepared last year, walking in that building for the first time, it's really an experience. And we just weren't ready for that last year. We were happy to be there. This year, we've reset our goals. We're also very grateful to be there this year, but our goals are a little bit higher. We know that we need to win in that first match in order to continue to move on. We'll be prepared for the first whistle."
"Hopefully with it being our second time there, we have a little bit more experience and we'll be a little bit more prepared for that first match," he said. "I'm just excited to see what these girls can do because it's a great group. I'm excited to go to battle with them."