UW-W volleyball team shops for Elite Eight spot
But the only thing the Warhawks will be shopping for this week is a trip to the Elite Eight as they begin their quest for the program’s third national title in six seasons.
“We’re pretty excited going to Minnesota to face teams we haven’t seen this year,” Whitewater coach Stacy Boudreau said. “It’s a great area to be going to.”
Whitewater (31-4) will be riding a 12-match winning streak into Thursday’s 1 p.m. opening-round match against Concordia-Moorehead (17-8). Ranked eighth nationally, the Warhawks have won 15 of their 35 matches in three-game sweeps. Only five of their matches have gone the full five games.
The Warhawks have been swept just twice—once against No. 6 Carthage and once by perennial national power Juniata, which beat Whitewater on Sept. 15 and again on Oct. 12.
Boudreau, however, believes that her Warhawks are hitting their stride at just the right time.
“This team is playing very good volleyball right now,” Boudreau said. “Our conference is so tough that we have to play good volleyball just to get this far.”
The eight-team regional also includes the host school, No. 12 St. Thomas (26-4), Bethel (21-10), College of St. Benedict (21-10), No. 25 Carleton College (19-5), No. 17 Central College (26-8), UW-Eau Claire (22-10) and the Warhawks’ first-round opponent, No. 21 Concordia-Moorehead (17-8).
“I expect every match to be tough,” Boudreau said.
The Warhawks will have to contain two Concordia-Moorehead players in Thursday’s match. Michelle Honek is an outside hitter who averages 3.99 kills a game. Middle hitter Abby Scheel, who stands 6-foot-2, averages 1.24 blocks a game.
The Warhawks, of course, can counter with 5-11 middle blocker Carley Polk, the WIAC’s Player of the Year. Polk has amassed 341 kills this season, an average of 3.34 per game. She also has a team-high 104 blocks.
Whitewater also has three other players with more than 200 kills: senior middle blocker Sarah Theis (222), senior outside hitter Abby Schultz (296) and sophomore outside hitter Kelly Sorenson (300).
“Carley is a very dominating hitter,” Boudreau said. “But we’re very well balanced.”
Whitewater’s first-team all-conference setter, Kate Lazotte, is a senior. She has 1,241 assists. Nobody else on the team has more than 306. Sophomore libero Kristina Conlin leads the Warhawks in service aces (50) and digs (531).
UW-Eau Claire and St. Thomas, the two teams most capable of denying the Warhawks a trip to the Elite Eight, will be in the opposite half of the regional bracket. Boudreau is leery of the hosts because of their home-court advantage.
As for the Blugolds, they have lost the last two regional title matches to the Warhawks. In the only regular-season meeting, Whitewater needed five games to defeat Eau Claire, winning the decisive game by a 15-13 score.
“With our experience from the last two years, I think we’re a little better prepared this year,” Boudreau said. “Being Wisconsin-Whitewater, we feel a certain degree of pressure every single match.
“Teams are always at their best when they play us. If there’s any pressure, it’s the pressure we put on ourselves.”
That pressure has been building since the Warhawks finished third in last year’s Elite Eight.
“Last year, we set a goal to reach the Elite Eight,” Boudreau said. “We achieved that. But at the end of last season, the girls decided to set this year’s goal a little higher. They’ve got a pretty big goal in mind. We have five seniors who are focused.”
NCAA Division III
ST. THOMAS REGIONAL
At St. Paul, Minn.
1 p.m.—UW-Whitewater (31-4) vs. Concorida-Moorhead, Minn. (17-8)
3:30 p.m.—Bethel , Minn. (23-8) vs. St. Benedict, Minn. (21-10)
6 p.m.—Carleton, Minn. (19-5) vs. Central, Iowa (26-8)
8:30 p.m.—UW-Eau Claire (22-10) vs. St. Thomas, Minn. (26-4)
4:30 p.m.—Whitewater/Concordia winner vs. Bethel/ St. Benedict winner
7 p.m.—Carleton/Central winner vs. Eau Claire/St. Thomas winner
7 p.m.—Semifinals winners