NCAA allots Knights fourth seed

In a moment that was almost as nerve-racking as a playoff game situation, the Gannon University volleyball team sat down together to watch its fate unfold on the NCAA selection show Sunday.

The Knights, who have been either the No. 4 or the No. 5 seed going into the regional tournament for the past two years, were again selected as the four seed, a position that coach Matt Darling said is “the middle of the pack,” and is definitely where they should be.

The team will face Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference rival, Edinboro University after splitting the season series with the Fighting Scots – each team won on its home floor.

Home-court advantage will not be a factor in Thursday’s 5 p.m.  matchup, however, as the tournament will be held at California University of Pennsylvania. Darling said he thinks this will put the teams on even footing.

“We’re playing at a neutral site against a team that we know we match up well against,” he said.

Senior defensive specialist Chelsea Barrett and junior outside hitter Lauren Sazama also said that although the Knights have had some difficulty in recent road games, the neutral location will strip either team of having an advantage.

“Not many teams play as well on the road as they do at home,” Sazama said. “Both us and Edinboro are playing an away match on Thursday.”

The teams are also on an even playing field in regard to time off, as they have both passed the same number of days since their last matches. If the Knights had drawn a higher seed, they would be up against fresher teams in either Clarion University or Lock Haven University. Darling said it helps that both Gannon and Edinboro have “a little rust to shake off.”

While Darling said the two teams match up well, he noted that they are strong in different areas.

“Edinboro always serves us really tough,” he said. “If they have a good serving game, we need to have a better passing game.”

Darling also said he believes the Knights have a stronger offense, something they can only utilize if their passes are on target.

“Kara (Cullen) hit over .500 last time we played them – we need to get her the ball,” he said.

Barrett said that since this is her senior year, she and her fellow upperclassmen are playing with a “leave it on the court mentality.”

“I think I can speak for all five of us when I say we don’t want to see the season end,” she said. “We’re going to help push the team forward for as long as possible.”

Sazama added that she thinks the freshmen have learned to understand the importance of getting an NCAA tournament win under their belts as well, since the team has lost in the first round for the past two years.

“I think since we have been talking about it so much they understand how important getting out of the first round is,” she said. “It’s definitely a motivator for us upperclassmen.”

She also said that she believes the Knights will be successful because in contrast to previous years when they have been simply happy to make it to the tournament, they have been expecting this all year.

“We’re going to be all business,” she said. “These away losses showed us how much more we need to win the hustle plays and minimize our mistakes.”

Darling said he is ready for the team to finally break through and get the first NCAA tournament win since he started at Gannon.

“Teams work all year to have a shot at this,” he said. “And we know we’re as good as anybody out there right now.”

If they outlast the Fighting Scots, Gannon will turn its attention to the winner of the matchup between Cal and St. Augustine’s College Friday.

CHRISTINE PEFFER

[email protected]