June 3, 2010

Benson officially releases 2010 volleyball schedule

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GREELEY -- Northern Colorado volleyball coach Lyndsey Benson has officially released her 2010 schedule, and the slate in front of her sixth installment in Greeley figures to be a good one.

Some definite challenges await the Bears -- the Georgia Bulldogs come to Greeley as part of this year’s Hampton Inn & Suites Northern Colorado Classic -- but there’s some opportunity for growth here, too -- can Northern Colorado finally get past Colorado State?

Aside from hosting a tournament for the second straight season, the Bears will also compete in the San Diego State Aztec Invitational in late August and the UniWyo Cowgirl Classic in Laramie in mid-September, where Northern Colorado will face Wyoming for the first time since 2007.

The Bears will face four teams from the Mountain West Conference in 2010 and will hold single matches against a pair of BCS Conference programs in Cincinnati (Aug. 27) and Georgia (Sept. 4).

“We are always trying to schedule teams ranked a little bit higher than us,” said Benson, who is the reigning Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year. “So, we will be challenged early on in our three preseason tournaments, which is exactly what we need.” 

In all, Northern Colorado will play 15 matches on the road and 14 in the new Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion, including four in the Classic in early September and three against instate-rivals Air Force (Aug. 31), Denver (Sept. 7) and the Rams (Sept. 28).

“This may be the best home schedule we have had since I’ve been here,” Benson said. “To host three instate rivals in one year is something we really need to take advantage of. It is always important to compete well and beat the regional teams -- we battle for recruits and bragging rights with those schools, and we want to be on top. 

“Our ultimate goal is to win and play in the NCAA Tournament again this year. These intense regional matches prepare us for late November.”

When the dust settles on the majority of their nonconference menu, the Bears’ Big Sky Conference schedule will begin on the road on Sept. 17 at Weber State. Northern Colorado will then play at Idaho State the following night before returning home for a season-long five-match homestand.

The Bears rolled through last year’s Big Sky Conference tournament and then faced off against Pac-10-power Washington in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. That two-week period in late November and early December was an exciting time for Benson and her team.

If the Bears are to turn in a repeat performance, a three-match road swing at Portland State (Oct. 15), Eastern Washington (Oct. 16) and Sacramento State (Oct. 23) and back-to-back tests at Montana (Nov. 5) and Montana State (Nov. 6) will loom large.

Matches against the Eagles (Nov. 11) and Portland State (Nov. 13) will finish off the home schedule, and then a road match at Northern Arizona (Nov. 20) will end the Bears’ regular season and set the stage for another potential march to the postseason.

The 2010 Big Sky Conference Championship will be decided on Nov. 26 and 27 in Portland.

Northern Colorado lost to graduation last year a stellar group of seniors in Allison Raguse, Kenzie Shreeve, Taylor Smith and Breanna VanDerMost, and Benson thinks those departures have given teams around the Big Sky the wrong impression.

“I think Big Sky teams will underestimate us this year, assuming we are rebuilding because we graduated four key seniors,” she said, “but we had a great spring and our underclassmen have really stepped up. Our system will look a little different than last year, but I think we will be just as effective.  Our goal is to win the conference.

“This is probably the most competitive team I’ve coached. If there’s a scoreboard, they are going to do everything in their power to win. This is a motivated, committed group that will exceed expectations.”