Volleyball gets jump on championship defense
GREELEY, Colo. -- Northern Colorado volleyball is officially ready to move on from its successful and historic 2009 campaign.
The Bears, who in November won the Big Sky Conference tournament and qualified for their first NCAA Division I Tournament appearance, will pull the curtain on their 2010 spring schedule this weekend when they host their annual spring tournament.
Wyoming, Denver and Tulsa highlight the 16-team field, and all matches will be played inside Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion or in the adjoining Auxiliary Gym inside Northern Colorado's Recreation Center. The tournament is scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and admission is free to the public.
The Bears have stayed in shape with conditioning and drill work since returning from Christmas break in January, but Saturday's event and the three tournaments scheduled to follow over the next month will offer Northern Colorado a chance to get back on the court and lay the groundwork for next season.
Saturday's matches will be Northern Colorado's first since falling in the NCAAs to the sixth-ranked Washington Huskies in early December and will give head coach Lyndsey Benson a chance to assess a program that's now without one of the best senior classes in the history of the program.
Allison Raguse (first-team All-Big Sky), Kenzie Shreeve (second-team All-Big Sky and Big Sky Tournament MVP), Taylor Smith (honorable mention All-Big Sky) and Breanna VanDerMost (Northern Colorado DI digs record holder) have all exhausted their eligibility -- though Shreeve and Smith may make an appearance this weekend.
UNCBears.com caught up with Benson as she and her assistants were preparing for spring play and the 2010 season. That conversation follows:
UNCBears: With the championship and all the success in the rearview, how’s your mind-set different this year heading into spring compared with previous springs?
Lyndsey Benson: I am very pleased with where we are at right now. This is a new team, but we are not rebuilding. We are talented, big, and we are getting the experience we need this spring. The success from last year is just a launching ground. It was certainly not the destination for this program. We are just beginning. Our mind-set is different. We expect success when we step on the floor, but you have to earn it, which happens in the offseason.
U: What have you (the coaches) and the players been doing since the season ended?
"LB: We took time off over Christmas break, which the athletes needed, but we started lifting and practicing when they started classes again. We started team practices two weeks ago, and we will play through the end of April. Then they (the student-athletes) will continue training on their own until August, when we kick off the fall season.
U: A majority of the matches this spring are against programs from our area. Do you sense a different perception of Northern Colorado volleyball when talking with these teams?
LB: We have healthy rivalries among the regional schools. We will see all five of them this fall, so we are anxious to see them this spring. Our goal has been and will always be to be the best team in the state. It helps in every aspect of your program when you have those bragging rights. We were extremely close this year (with five-set losses to CSU and DU on the road). We are glad that we can host three of those matches this year (AFA, CSU, DU).
U: What needs to happen for this spring to be considered a success in your eyes?
LB: Success in the spring is not determined by wins and losses. We always want to compete hard -- if there is a scoreboard, we want to win because there are learning lessons in that -- but more importantly we want to develop our players to be successful in the fall. We will try different lineups and matchups. It is a chance for our younger players to gain experience. We are anxious to see another team on the other side of the court to see our winter training pay off.