If the Lewis-Clark State College volleyball team is as determined as its coach Jennifer Greeny, well Southern Oregon will have its hands full on Saturday night at 6 when the two teams collide in the opening round of the NAIA National Tournament at Ashland, Ore.
Greeny is having an amazing week. After coaching the Warriors to their third straight Frontier Conference title on Saturday, Greeny was planning to induce labor to give birth to her and husband Burdette Greeny’s second child. The couple had planned this in order for Jennifer to be able to return to coaching for what appeared to be a first-round home match based on the NAIA rankings.
But then something called life happened.
On Sunday, the Greenys’ doctor put things on hold because he was busy with other births. Then the NAIA first-round pairings came out that night and the Warriors wound up being the highest-ranked team that had to go on the road. It was expected that the No. 13-24 teams would get to host first-round matches, but that wasn’t the case for the No. 21 Warriors.
Jennifer returned to work on Monday to prepare for the No. 13-ranked Raiders when her water broke around noon and she gave birth that afternoon to the couples’ second daughter. Amazingly, Jennifer was back at practice by Wednesday and then rode with her parents and her new daughter to Ashland on Friday, a 500-plus mile jaunt, for the match.
“I feel great,” Jennifer said. “But this is going to be a very tough match.”
The contest appears to be the featured first-round matchup because it’s the only one of the 12 that involves two ranked teams. Southern Oregon is 24-3 on the season and received one of the eight at-large berths to the tournament after falling to College of Idaho in the Cascade Conference Tournament championship match. Southern Oregon tied College of Idaho for the regular season title with 17-1 records. Two of the team’s three losses are to College of Idaho while the other is to top-ranked Fresno Pacific.
“They are very big and athletic,” Greeny said of the Raiders. “They are just a very solid team. We are going to have to play well all-around to beat them.”
LCSC also lost to College of Idaho in a five-set thriller at its season-opening tournament and then also was swept by No. 1 Fresno Pacific a week later. Greeny said it’s hard to make comparisons between how the teams did against common opponents because LCSC was still trying to figure out its rotations that early in the season.
If LCSC does have one advantage, it would appear to be experience. Southern Oregon is making its first trip to nationals since 2004, while LCSC is making its third straight appearance and eight players have been in this situation at least once before.
“I think the experience should help us,” Greeny said. “I think the more you go through, your level of confidence goes up. Playing in a national tournament before should help us.”
The Warriors also are coming off a pair of five-set victories from the conference tournament. The team had to show plenty of resolve after falling behind 2-0 to Carroll in the semifinals before rallying to win the final three sets.
“That should help us a lot because we know we are never out of it,” Greeny said.
The Raiders, who had a 15-match win streak snapped in the title game setback last week, is led by all-conference selections Leah Bergstrom and Chelsea Hartman. Bergstrom, a 6-foot-1 junior, is hitting .292 and averaging 2.83 kills per set, while Hartman, a 6-0 junior, is at .277 and a team-best 2.99.
Senior Anile Clemente leads the Warriors with 3.05 kills and 3.42 digs per contest, and is hitting .228.
“They seem like a very smart team so we are going to have to do the same and limit our unforced errors,” Greeny said.
The winner of this match will join the other 11 winners for the pool play portion of the tournament. The national tournament actually involves 36 teams, but the top 11 plus the national host receive a first-round bye into pool play, which is Dec. 1-5 at Sioux City, Iowa. The 24 teams remaining will be divided into six four-team pools. Each team will play the other three from its pool and the top two teams from each pool then advance to a single-elimination bracket.