CAA TOURNAMENT CENTRAL (BlueHens.com)
NEWARK, Del. – If the VCU Volleyball Team senses a strange feeling of déjà vu hovering over this weekend's Colonial Athletic Association Tournament, it's for good reason.
The fourth-seeded Rams (12-19) will meet top seed and host Delaware (24-5) on Saturday, Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m. on the Barb Viera Court at the Bob Carpenter Sports Complex in the CAA Tournament semifinals. The match is scheduled five years to the day of VCU's thrilling, come-from-behind victory over Towson in the 2005 CAA Championship Match. It was the school's first and only CAA crown. That VCU team won three matches in three days to become the first No. 4 seed to win the CAA Tournament title.
If the Rams want to repeat history, they'll have to start by knocking off a red-hot Delaware squad. The Blue Hens, picked No. 1 in the CAA Preseason Coaches Poll, have been impressive this season, rolling to a 13-1 record in league play. Behind 2009 CAA Setter of the Year Jess Chason, star libero Greta Gibboney and All-CAA outsides Katie Dennehy and Kim Stewart, UD enters this weekend's tournament on a 12-match win streak.
Additionally, the Blue Hens own a pair of victories over VCU this season, including a 3-0 sweep at the Siegel Center Oct. 8. Head Coach James Finley (left), who led the Rams to that 2005 championship in his first season with VCU, knows the Blue Hens won't go away easy.
"The thing that makes it really difficult against a team like them is that they have five seniors that have been through the system and they're extremely disciplined," Finley said. "Even some of the higher-ranked teams we played weren't even as disciplined. Even though you know what they're going to do, they just work so hard and you have to play incredibly hard all the time to compete with them because their intensity level is great. They just work hard on every single ball. We've got to be able to match that."
The Rams, who have reached the CAA Championship Match three times under Finley (2005, 2006, 2009) are led by seniors Mariel Frey (2.62 kills/set, 2.12 digs/set), who is enjoying her best season in a VCU uniform, and middle blocker Kelsie Clegg (1.67 kills/set, 1.19 blocks/set), the program's all-time leader in blocks. VCU will also lean heavily on emerging sophomore outside hitter Kristin Boyd (2.50 kills/set), who averaged a team-high 2.75 kills per in 14 league matches, and second-year libero Marisa Low (3.78 digs/set).
VCU had to sweat the final weekend of the regular season after a disappointing, 3-2 loss to William & Mary Nov. 6. The Rams eventually received the final CAA bid because it owned head-to-head tiebreakers over Georgia State and James Madison. However, after a 3-0 Senior Night rout of non-conference opponent Hampton on Tuesday, Finley feels the Rams are back on track.
"Every once and a while you luck out as a coach and it looks like you did something right. Scheduling Tuesday night's game, I think, was really big for us," Finley said. "We needed to be able to just play and relax and be successful. It was really just a fun evening for our team and we've really had just a tremendous week of practice."
Finley also thinks VCU's bruising non-conference schedule, which included six top-25 squads, has readied the Black and Gold for this weekend's pressure-packed tournament.
"You play those and schedule those because it gives the kids a solid foundation and something to draw back on and draw strength and confidence on," Finley said. "I think those will be very valuable as we come in because we played some of the best teams in the country and being able to draw on those experiences should help us against Delaware."
The winner of Saturday's VCU-Delaware match will advance to the CAA Championship on Sunday, Nov. 21 at 5 p.m. against the winner of Saturday's other semifinal between Northeastern and James Madison.