After hosting and winning the OVC Tournament Championship in Racer Arena, the women’s volleyball team is prepared to face Illinois tonight in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
On the Illini’s home court the Racers face the ninth overall national seed, which finished its regular season 24-7 overall and 16-4 in the Big Ten. The match starts at 7 p.m. in Huff Hall in Champaign, Ill.
The Illini are ranked 10th in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 poll. They have the eighth best Rating Percentage Index or RPI, which is a measurement of strength of schedule and how well teams do against stronger and weaker team. The Racers are 114th in RPI.
“Everybody was so anxious to hear where we would go,” said Head Coach David Schwepker. “A lot of our girls are from Illinois and some of them know several of the players. I think it’s just exciting for them.”
This will be the Racers first trip to the NCAA Tournament since the last time they won the OVC Tournament in 2003. They also faced Illinois in the first round and lost.
“They will put on a great tournament,” Schwepker said. “They have a big gym specializing in volleyball. They also have an entire frontline of girls above six foot; we only have one.”
Schwepker said the team is focusing on it just like any other game. He said it’s an honor to be one of the 64 teams playing for the title.
“It’s another step in the process,” Schwepker said. “This isn’t the end. Hopefully we can take this and build on it for next season.”
Last week the Racers were the only team to sweep through the tournament. The Racers beat every team 3-0, defeating Southeast Missouri State, Tennessee Tech and Belmont. For the first time since 2003 they are able to add a banner.
Schwepker has been looking at banners that hang in Racer Arena for 16 years. Since 2003 he said he’s looked at the placement of them and long hoped he would fill the blank space with another banner.
“It’s so incredible to hang another banner in our gym,” Schwepker said. “It’s been so lopsided for so many years. It’s finally fixed. But it isn’t over yet.”
After having a week to rest up and take in all their success for the season, Schwepker said the team is ready to take on Illinois and hopefully take it to the next round.
He said he’s structured practices like tournaments with their own players facing off. This keeps the team on their toes and helps the front line be prepared.
“Everybody is back in and focused,” Schwepker said. “They don’t look at it like it’s the end. We aren’t going up there to goof around. We’re going to try to win.”
Story by Kelsey Randolph, Assistant Sports Editor