Volleyball Readies for NCAA Regional Appearance

ANDERSON, S.C. – On the heels of their first-ever appearance in the finals of the South Atlantic Conference Tournament, the fifth-seeded Anderson volleyball team will square off against No. 4 seed Tusculum in the opening round of the 2013 NCAA Southeast Region Tournament, Thursday afternoon at Wingate’s Cuddy Arena.

Anderson (18-14) has equaled the most wins in a season since joining the SAC for the 2010 season and will meet the Pioneers (21-10) for the fourth time this season, as the two squads join three other teams from the league, Queens (No. 6), Newberry (No. 7) and top-seeded Wingate, which will be hosting the NCAA Southeast Regional Tournament for the fifth time in six years 

Thursday’s matchup marks the second appearance for Anderson in the NCAA Division II Women’s Volleyball Championship, and the first since Wingate ousted AU, 3-0, in the opening round of the 2008 Southeast Regional, which was also hosted by the Bulldogs.

The three-day NCAA Regional begins Thursday, with the regional semifinals slated for Friday and the regional title match is scheduled for Saturday. The first-round contest will be a rematch of the SAC Tournament semifinals that saw the Trojans outlast the higher-seeded Pioneers, 3-2 (23-25, 25-23, 26-24, 20-25, 15-7) to reach the SAC Tournament finals for the first time since joining the league in 2010.

Anderson defeated Tusculum for just the second time in school history and the first time since the 2004 season, with junior outside hitter Shannon Gillespie leading all players with 16 kills. She added 12 digs for her 23rd double-double of the season. Redshirt freshman Priscilla Irizarry tallied a career-high 15 kills and posted 12 digs to go along with six block assists, as she recorded her third double-double of the season in the win. Junior middle blocker Hailey Pittman posted 14 kills and five block assists on the afternoon, with redshirt freshman Tinsley Hallman tallying 10 kills, 10 digs and four block assists, as she recorded her first career double-double. Junior setter Meghan Cautero narrowly missed her 11th double-double of the season after dishing out a match-high 52 assists and coming up with eight digs in the win. Junior libero Alix Hooker shared match-high honors with 31 digs, while true freshman Jessica Harris recorded six block assists in the upset.

Tusculum owns a 13-2 advantage in the overall series that dates back to the 1997 season. The Pioneers claimed the first-ever meeting in 1997, then the series lapsed for six years before the two squads met again, with AU taking a 3-1 win in Greeneville, Tenn., during the 2004 campaign. Tusculum had won 12 consecutive decisions past the Trojans, with eight coming since Anderson joined the SAC in 2010.

A preseason pick by the league’s coaches to finish 10th in the South Atlantic Conference, the Trojans wrapped up the season tied for third in the league, along with Lenoir-Rhyne, Queens, and Lincoln Memorial, all with 14-8 marks in conference play. Heading into the NCAA Tournament, the Trojans have won four of their last five matches and eight of their last 11.

With no seniors listed on the roster, Anderson is buoyed by a veteran and talented junior class and bolstered by skillful newcomers in the lineup that is available to fifth-year head coach Craig Mosqueda.   

Gillespie, a First-Team All-Southeast Region selection, leads the conference in four offensive categories, while ranking 14th in kills per set nationally and 21st in points per set. The Fishers, Ind. native is seventh in AU’s record books with 1,151 career kills and has notched 23 double-doubles on the season, while tallying double figure digs on 27 occasions. The 5-foot-10 outside hitter needs 16 kills to set a new school record for kills in a single season. Pittman was chosen for Second-team All-Southeast Region honors. She is sixth in the SAC with her .327 attacking percentage and is third with 406 total kills. She is second on the squad with 72 total blocks on the season and has reached double-figure kills on 25 occasions this season, including 13 of the last 14 matches.

Mosqueda will be looking for a pair of SAC All-Tournament selections to continue their hot hand, as Hooker and Irizarry were both named to the team following stellar performances. Hooker notched 70 digs over the three-match span, averaging 6.36 digs per set, while also recorded five service aces at clutch moments. Hooker averages more than five digs (5.20) per set on the season and ranks third in the conference on the strength of six 30-plus dig performances, while posting a season-high 37 in the five-set loss to Tusculum in early October. She ranks 36th nationally in digs per set. Irizarry was also named to the all-tournament team after tallying 33 kills, 31 digs, eight blocks and six assists. She posted back-to-back double-doubles in the semifinals and finals.

Cautero, a native of Naples, Fla., ranks fourth all-time in the school record books with 2,864 assists and has recorded 10 double-doubles, while averaging nearly nine assists per set and ranks fifth in the league. Hallman leads AU with 41 service aces, and has added 27 blocks and nearly 200 kills on the season, while Harris paces the Trojans at the net with 90 total blocks on the season and is ninth in the league, averaging 0.74 per set.

Defensively, the Trojans rank 30th in the nation by averaging 17.89 digs per set.

The winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal contest will advance to meet the winner of the No. 1 seed Wingate/No. 8 seed Belmont Abbey game in Friday’s semifinal round at 6:30 p.m.

First-serve for the Trojans – Pioneers matchup is scheduled for 5 p.m.


2013 NCAA Southeast Regional Tournament
at Wingate University (Cuddy Arena)

#3 Flagler vs. #6 Queens Noon
#2 Armstrong Atlantic vs. #7 Newberry 2:30 p.m.
#4 Tusculum vs. #5 Anderson 5 p.m.
#1 Wingate vs. #8 Belmont Abbey 7:30 p.m.
#3 Flagler/#6 Queens Winner vs. #2 Armstrong/#7 Newberry Winner 4 p.m.
#4 TC/#5 Anderson Winner vs. #1 Wingate/#8 BAC Winner 6:30 p.m.
Championship 4 p.m.

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