Nov. 26, 2004
Special to CollegeSports.com
ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Four women's volleyball teams have a challenge ahead of them this weekend in Minnesota and it has nothing to do with turkey.
The NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Final Four tournament just got started on Thanksgiving Day. All four teams spent 90 minutes Thursday practicing at the Mayo Civic Center for the first time since arriving in Rochester, Minn. In Friday's semifinal round, 2003 National Champion Washington University in St. Louis meets University of LaVerne at 5:30 p.m., while NYU and Juniata play in the 8 p.m. nightcap.
While players and coaches didn't mind to competing for the championship during Thanksgiving weekend, it was difficult for many of their families to make their way to Minnesota.
Washington senior Colleen Winter didn't mind ending her career during the holiday weekend, playing volleyball on the biggest stage in Division III.
"At first, everyone was sad that they didn't get to be with their families like we have in the past over Thanksgiving," she said. "But you're so excited after quarterfinals and you just want to play. I'm really excited to end senior year on Thanksgiving weekend because what more can you be thankful for, except for playing your last game at the Final Four."
Washington head coach Rich Luenemann agreed, appreciating that he can spend the holiday with his squad and compete for a national championship for the second straight year.
"What a great time for a bunch of people who are so very, very close like a volleyball team to be together during the holiday," he said. "What a great opportunity to be together on a holiday and be in the Final Four. It doesn't get any better than that."
Not only did Juniata senior Katie Charles not mind spending the holiday at the Final Four, but she planned on being in Minnesota for Thanksgiving since the NCAA announced the host of this year's Final Four in the summer. Her father even organized a bus for fellow parents to get from Pennsylvania to Rochester this weekend.
"As soon as I found out, I was like we're going to be in Minnesota and I told my parents we're not having Thanksgiving this year at home," she said. "It was good for my parents because they have off work, so they can come out here. It's a nice thing, because on any regular weekend it would be tough to get off work."
But for the other family members of players and coaches who wanted to come, getting to Minnesota was no easy task.
The family of NYU senior tri-captain Serena Bountour will not be at the Final Four to watch the last volleyball matches of her career because the trip from Huntington Beach, Calif., her hometown, was just too expensive.
"The cheapest flight we could find was $500 and that wasn't going to happen," she said.
Many of her teammates faced the same problem, but it's not too devastating for the squad, she said.
"It was ridiculously expensive," Bountour said. "So families who couldn't afford it drove or if they're too far, they're just not coming. We'll just make some copies of the [game] videotapes and send them out."
Some the families of players from California had better luck. All of the La Verne families will be present at the tournament to cheer on the squad, whose entire roster hails from the Golden State.
"We had a good amount of parents that were prepared and had their tickets," La Verne head coach Don Flora said. "Some were already prepared, some were last minute, but they made their plans and understood what was in front of them. We have parents coming from Las Vegas, (Los Angeles), Ontario (Calif.), Palm Springs. They're coming from everywhere."
Last season, the Final Four was held at LaVerne Dec. 5-6, the weekend after Thanksgiving, providing a two-week break between the quarterfinals and the semifinal matches. However, this year the NCAA decided to do away with the extra weekend, which pleased La Verne senior Jennifer Stout.
"Yeah, it's two weeks to prepare and that might be good, but if you're not ready by now for the Final Four, there's no need for the two weeks," she said. "We had two practices at home and we came here. We're ready. I don't think the two weeks are necessary. I thought it was drawn out and too long to wait."
All of the coaches were also thankful for the quicker approach to scheduling the championship.
"I'm glad we're getting to do this right way. The two week break has always been kind of excruciating," Juniata head coach Larry Bock said. "It's a little difficult to plan training. On the other side, this is a difficult travel weekend. As a team, they're ready to play."
NYU head coach Ed Caesar agreed, noting that the extra weekend last year may have given his players too much time to get scared about possibly facing conference rival Washington University in the tournament.
"It's one of those things where you just want to go out and play instinctively and not have to think about things," he said. "So we landed on Sunday and we turn around, we're leaving 48 hours later. I like that kind of turnaround, so when you get on the court it's instinct right away. They're ready to battle."