NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — After reaching seven NCAA Tournaments in 10 years, Lipscomb was left out of volleyball’s postseason the last three years. When COVID canceled the season last fall it looked like the drought might continue.
But with testing protocols in place, the NCAA moved to an adapted spring schedule and Lipscomb made the most of it. The Bisons went 17-2, beating Florida Gulf Coast in five sets on April 3rd to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament in Omaha, Neb.
It was a particularly rewarding feeling for a senior class that was in danger of becoming the program’s first class in 15 years to never reach the NCAA Tourney.
“We just wanted to continue the tradition,” senior outside hitter Megan Kuper said. “Not winning a conference championship in three years, we were kind of like, ‘what’s wrong with us? What have we got to do differently?’ It feels really nice to finally be back here.”
Kuper leads the team in hitting with 219 kills this season, and is joined by fellow outside hitter Sami Rubal to make up a good one-two attacking punch for 18th year head coach Brandon Rosenthal, while fellow seniors Alyssa Zwolensky and Ashley Maher patrol the back row defense around freshman setter Delaney Dilfer. After 67 career victories, Rosenthal believes it was time this group got the reward of making the NCAA Tournament.
“This group is special,” Rosenthal said. “So it’s nice for them to be able to reap the benefits from all the hard work that they’ve put in.”
The NCAA Tournament experience will be a bit different this time around. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the tournament field was reduced from 64 to 48 teams and the entire event will be held over the next two weeks in Omaha. All teams are staying in the same hotel, which connects to the Convention Center where all first and second-round games will be played on four connecting courts. The final rounds of the tournament will take place inside CHI Health Center Arena, which is also connected to the NCAA’s secure perimeter for players and coaches.
“It’s definitely crazy,” Kuper said. “I did not expect my first and last NCAA Tournament experience to be in a bubble, but it’s just incredible that we’re able to play in the springtime. We’re just all super excited and finally ready to enjoy this experience together.”
Lipscomb will square off against no. 23 Georgia Tech in a first-round game Wednesday night. First, serve will come at 6 p.m.
It’s an opportunity for the Bisons to leave a lasting legacy. In the program’s seven previous trips to the NCAA Tournament, it failed to win a match. Rosenthal believes this group has a legitimate chance to break through for that first victory.
“I’m not going give you coach speak, I’m going to tell you that this group can do this,” Rosenthal said. “I want all gas. If we’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to make aggressive mistakes. We aren’t going to go home wondering what if? These girls aren’t scared. This is that group that’s proven over and over that they can persevere, and I have no doubt they’re ready.”
It’s been a memorable season full of firsts for these Bisons, and they would love nothing more than to add that first NCAA win to cap it off.