The San Diego volleyball team gathered Sunday night and watched the NCAA selection show basically in silence.
And as the last of the 16 seeds were announced, the mood of the room turned to disappointment. The Toreros, once ranked as high as fifth in the AVCA Division I Coaches Poll, fully expected to be a host team for the NCAA Tournament despite losing two of their last six matches. After all, before the new rankings came out Monday, they were ranked No. 11 (now 14th) in the AVCA and 11th in the NCAA RPI (16 this week).
Now, however, San Diego is driving north to UCLA to play Baylor on Friday. The winner of that match plays Saturday against the winner of UCLA vs. Wichita State.
Did the NCAA committee undervalue the Torero’s wins? Overvalue their losses? Was USD a victim of the NCAA’s geographical restriction policies, as fewer California and Arizona teams qualified this year?
“It’s hard to say,” USD coach Jennifer Petrie said after a long pause. “Dropping our last match was a disappointment to all of us, and we have no one to blame except ourselves. I did feel that we had a very strong body of work throughout our season, and some very strong wins along the way.”
San Diego is 24-5 and finished second to BYU in the West Coast Conference at 15-3. BYU is the No 13 seed and will host.
USD bolted out of the blocks at the start of the season and immediately got everyone’s attention. The Toreros beat Stanford at Stanford in five in their first match. After losing in four to Minnesota and in three to Wisconsin, they swept Texas A&M Corpus Christi, beat UC Irvine and then really shook things up by sweeping Colorado and beating UCLA in four. After beating Long Beach State in four, USD was firmly in the national picture.
USD split with BYU, but was upset twice in the WCC, first by Portland on Nov. 10, and then four matches later at Pepperdine to end the regular season.
“The team is determined right now. They’re not happy with the way that they’ve been playing, but they’re eager to get in the gym, and to compete, and to work hard, and we’re not done getting better yet, so that’s the exciting thing as a coach and as a player,” Petrie said.
“The desire to want to train and to compete and to train and to get better is still very strong.”
“For us, those losses stung really hard, considering we worked so hard the whole season, to lose momentum at the end,” USD senior Lisa Kramer said.
“But I think as far as our postseason mentality, we’re just going to forget about it. That has nothing to do with anything any more, we can’t change what happened, all we can focus on is what is happening right now, and play one game at a time. We’re going to play as hard as we can, and see how far we can go. We just have to move on. We’re just going to practice hard and get prepared.”
Kramer leads USD with 362 kills, 100 more than her closest teammate, Lauren Schad, who has 262. Kramer has hit .301 this season and Schad .410. There is balance in the offense overall, as Kaity Edwards has 227 kills, Lauren Fuller 221, Thana Fayad 171 and Jayden Kennedy 158.
“UCLA is kind of our second home, we’re excited,” Kramer said. “It’s the first round, it’s one game, one match at a time at this point, you win, you keep moving on, you lose, you’re out. So one game is all you can focus on.”
Last year, USD was 22-10 and was sent to USC. The Toreros swept Northern Arizona in the first round and then got swept by USC to end their season.
“This year we’ve been a more solid team,” Kramer said. “We’ve been in the top 10, I think it’s an amazing team to go into the postseason with, one of my best teams I’ve had here in terms of chemistry and playing well under stress together, which is always a big deal, because some teams don’t play well together under stress. I think that’s a big plus for us.”
“We’re excited to be in the NCAA tournament,” said Petrie, who started at USD in 1999. “We feel pretty good about it.
“It’s always nice when you don’t have to get on a plane, and it’s nice when you’re matched up with someone you’ve already played this year, and have had success against. We have a lot of confidence going into that matchup.”