The Pioneers make their NCAA tournament debut against the second seeded Nebraska Cornhuskers Thursday night in Lincoln, NE. The game will be broadcast live and available for free online, the action is set to start at 8:00 pm Eastern time.
The Storyline... The Sacred Heart women's volleyball team heads to the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history Thursday night for an opening round match-up with Nebraska. The Pioneers claimed their first-ever Northeast Conference regular season and tournament championships in 2010. SHU owns a school record 29 victories and posted a 20 game winning streak en route to a 29-6 mark overall this season. Sacred Heart's inaugural NCAA contest will pit the Pioneers against the second seeded Huskers, ranked third in the latest AVCA national poll. The winner will have a second round meeting against either Auburn or Missouri State.
Historic Championships and Turnaround...Elise Sage had the honor of notching the championship point two weeks ago as the Pioneers swept Robert Morris to claim the 2010 Northeast Conference title. One week prior it was Ashlyn Trimble who put the final point to the floor against Long Island to start the celebration of Sacred Heart's first-ever regular season championship. The Pioneers success in 2010 marks a milestone in the program's historic turnaround after finishing the 2006 season with a 3-23 overall record. But since the arrival of this year's senior class and head coach Rob Machan in 2007 Sacred Heart has compiled a 79-50 mark.
Filling Up the Trophy Case... Senior captain Courtney Kidd-Kadlubek has taken home plenty of hardware in the final weeks of her collegiate career. The Santa Barbara, CA native was named the 2010 Northeast Conference Player and Setter of the Year. She also earned her second straight nod to the All-NEC first team. The honors continued to roll-in once the Pioneers reached the postseason. Kidd-Kadlubek was named to the NEC all-tournament team as well as tournament MVP. She ranks first in the Northeast Conference and eighth in the NCAA with 11.89 assists per set. Kidd-Kadlubek is the Pioneers all-time leader in assists, standing at 4,608 entering the 2010 NCAA tournament. The senior tallied 98 helpers in the Pioneers two contests to propel SHU to a Northeast Conference championship.
Sacred Heart Dominates NEC Postseason Awards... Five Pioneers were named to All-Northeast Conference teams at the end of the regular season. Courtney Kidd-Kadlubek, Dianis Mercado, and Elise Sage all earned spots on the All-NEC first team. Mercado also was named the league's rookie of the year, becoming the first Pioneer to win the award. Johanna Ovseneck and libero Jessica Colberg each received a nod to the second team. Head coach Rob Machan secured his second consecutive NEC Coach of the Year distinction.
In the National Rankings... The Pioneers are eighth in the nation with 14.54 kills per set. Sacred Heart is swinging at a .247 clip in 2010, good for 43rd in the country. Behind Courtney Kidd-Kadlubek SHU ranks ninth in division I at 13.57 assists per set. The Pioneers have served well and notched 1.65 service aces per set, 0.43 off the pace of the nation's best. Elise Sage is hitting .383 in the middle of the SHU offense, which ranks 22nd in the country. Overall, Sacred Heart is 18th in winning percentage at .829 (29-6).
David vs. Goliath... A Sacred Heart victory over the Cornhuskers would mark one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history. The Pioneers have never defeated a team from the Big 12 Conference while Nebraska is a perennial powerhouse contending for the national championship. Only one team from the Northeast Conference, Long Island in 2005, has picked up a win in the NCAA tournament. Thursday's match-up will also mark the first meeting between Nebraska and any school from the NEC.
Not the End of the Road... The Pioneers will be able to draw on experience from this postseason as the program moves forward. SHU loses just two players to graduation at the end of the academic year. Sacred Heart returns 11 players, including six-of-seven starters, for the 2011 campaign.
Home Cookin'... Sacred Heart closed out the 2010 season with an unblemished 16-0 record at home in the William H. Pitt Center. SHU was only forced to a fifth set on its home court once all year, a 3-2 victory over Central Connecticut State in the NEC tournament semifinals. The Pioneers notched ten 3-0 victories at home this season.
Analyzing the Field... Of the 64 teams in the NCAA tournament only two, Northern Iowa and Tulsa, have tallied more wins than the Pioneers in 2010. Other teams who are tied with Sacred Heart at 29 victories are Middle Tennessee, American, and Cincinnati.
.Fighting Off the Sweep... Sacred Heart has only lost one match 3-0 in the 2010 season. Long Beach State swept away SHU in the Pioneers first tournament of the year back on August 28. Sacred Heart's other losses are five set decisions against Rutgers, Robert Morris, and Saint Francis (PA) as well four set losses to St. Mary's (CA) and Ohio State.
New Places, New Adventures... For the first time in school history Sacred Heart will have a program competing in the state of Nebraska. The SHU women's basketball team visited the region in 2008 in a match-up with the Kansas Jayhawks.
Scouting the Cornhuskers... Nebraska rolls into the NCAA tournament on an eight game winning streak, all by virtue of 3-0 sweeps. The Huskers make their 29th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament, last winning the national championship in 2006. Nebraska enters its tilt against the Pioneers ranked in the top five in the nation in blocks, assists, and kills. The Cornhuskers are also perfect in the NU Coliseum, posting a 13-0 record. Under current head coach John Cook Nebraska has a 301-8 record after winning the first set. The Huskers are unbeatable when holding opponents under a .200 hitting percentage, owning a 23-0 record in those matches.