Nov. 26, 2004
Special to CollegeSports.com
ROCHESTER, Minn. - The theme for this year's NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Championship semifinals is rematches. Both of tonight's matchups have history behind them and squads that are craving to avenge losses from last year's NCAA tournament.
Washington University in St. Louis (31-6) and the University of La Verne (32-3) are facing each other in a semifinal match identical to last year (Friday, 5:30 p.m.), while Juniata College (35-3) is going head-to-head with New York University (40-5) (Friday, 8 p.m.) after a close, heated quarterfinal loss to the young NYU squad in 2003.
When Washington and La Verne step onto the court Friday afternoon at 5:30 p.m. to kick off the semifinals, it'll be déjà vu. The Bears swept the Leopards the same exact semifinal match last year. Washington went on to sweep NYU to capture its record-eighth national championship.
La Verne senior Jennifer Stout was excited about seeing the Bears tonight for the first time since the squad's loss last year.
"I think we've all been waiting for a second chance to play them," she said. "That was the first time we got to play them and we want to play them again, show them what we can do."
Washington head coach Rich Luenemann is aware that La Verne is out for revenge, but he also knows his team can handle the rematch.
"We don't know how much their desire for payback fits into this equation and I assume they're really motivated for that," he said. "A plus that we have is that we beat them last year 3-0, and that's in their minds. We're entering the match confident."
The teams didn't get a chance to meet each other this year in regular-season play, so it is the first meeting between the two squads since 2003. Since then, despite the loss of four talented players, the Bears compiled a 31-6 season record and captured the University Athletic Association conference title for the 17th straight year.
La Verne has had an equally impressive year. The Leopards are 32-3 on the season with a No. 3 ranking in the CSTV/AVCA poll and secured their fifth straight Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title earlier this month.
La Verne is still looking to win its third national title, while Washington on track to put a ninth under its belt. But La Verne head coach Don Flora downplayed Washington's past dominance.
"For us, they're just another team on the radar," he said. "The last five years, La Verne, Juniata and Wash U are the only three programs to be ranked in the country in the top ten in the final poll and now NYU's put themselves in there. These are elite national teams and (Washington) is just another team."
In primetime, NYU and Juniata will face-off in a rematch of one of last year's most thrilling Elite Eight matches. After losing to Juniata 3-0 at the Eagles' home tournament earlier in 2003, NYU stunned the undefeated No. 1 squad on the Violets' home court in the Elite Eight, taking the match to five games.
Juniata senior Katie Charles is looking forward to avenging last year's loss, but this time on an even bigger stage.
"Last year, I kind of feel we didn't play our best when we were (at NYU) and that's hard to go out on," she said. "This is our chance and our first time around this year. Most the team from last year is still here from when we played NYU, so it's kind of a big deal right now."
Juniata bounced back from last year's loss by posting a 35-3 record this year, with its only losses coming in matches against Division I Princeton University and D-III's second-ranked Wittenberg University. Earlier this month, the Eagles captured their 24th Commonwealth Conference title and regained their No. 1 ranking in the CSTV/AVCA poll, a position the Eagles have not held since 2003. Juniata also possesses this year's AVCA Division III National Player of the Year, senior Carli Dale.
The Violets are anticipating the chance to prove themselves once again to the No. 1 team in the country.
"We're excited," NYU senior Serena Bountour said. "I think it's impossible for anyone to say they're not nervous, but it's sort of an excited nervous. We're just ready to play."
NYU head coach Ed Caesar will put out the same lineup from last year, confident that the hungry Violets can pull out another win against the powerful squad.
"I don't expect (us) to not fight," he said. "It's almost like we have a dog on a leash right now, they look like they're ready to attack. When we let go of the leash tomorrow, they better attack Juniata hard and I think they will."
After reaching their first Final Four in 2003, the Violets are 40-5 this year and are ranked ninth in the CSTV/AVCA poll. NYU is the only team in this year's Final Four to not hold its conference's championship. The Violets compete in the UAA with Washington, and finished third at the championship tournament earlier this month after dropping matches to Washington and Emory University.
Luenemann said he was impressed with all four of the teams playing for the championship and knows it's going to be a fight to the finish.
"This championship is one of the best Final Fours that I can remember since I've been coaching at Washington University," he said. "Occasionally we find a weaker team makes it through, but if you look at the AVCA rankings, the teams that are here are just very, very, very strong teams."
The tournament will conclude with the crowning of its champion with a title match set for 8 p.m., Saturday night.