Nov. 20, 2010

Courtesy of Concordia-St. Paul Athletics

MARSHALL, Minn. - The top-ranked and three-time defending NCAA Champion Concordia University volleyball team (29-4) will be going back to the NCAA Division II Championship Tournament (Elite Eight) after defeating 10th-ranked and fourth-seeded Nebraska-Kearney (31-5). The Golden Bears topped the Lopers in straight sets (25-16, 26-24, 25-12) on Saturday evening at the PE Gymnasium on the campus of tournament host Southwest Minnesota State.

It's the fourth consecutive regional championship victory for the Concordia volleyball program, and the sixth in eight consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament. They have now won 21 consecutive NCAA Tournament matches, and their two seniors: Emily Palkert (Excelsior, Minn.) and Krista Erickson (Andover, Minn.) have never lost in NCAA postseason play. They improve to 31-4 all-time in the NCAA Tournament as well, while extending their 2010 winning streak to 19 matches.

When asked about the process of building a championship-caliber program, head coach Brady Starkey credited his predecessor for their early work together, "It wasn't just me that started this - 10 or 11 years ago, Geoff Carlston was head coach and I was his assistant coming in. We went to the Elite Eight (to watch) after that first year when we got hired to see what it was like and what we'd need to get for players to be successful." Starkey continued to recall his early coaching days, "That's how we started, going to get kids to come play for us to take us to that level and built it up that way. He (Carlston) left after 2002 and I took over in 2003 and we knew we had a great team coming back, and I know it was hard for him (Carlston) to leave but it was a great opportunity for me. It's just built itself off of that, and we took it from there - it's been a fun ride."

They'll face the NCAA West Region champion, to be determined late this evening between sixth-ranked California State University, San Bernardino and Seattle Pacific, on Thursday, December 2 at a time to be announced in Louisville, Ky. (Bellarmine University campus) at the NCAA Fall Championships Festival.

When asked about their next opponent, Palkert responded, "We are excited to get out on the road and go to Kentucky to play a team we haven't really played much or know much about. But when it comes down to it, it's not about the other team's stats or players, it's about playing our game and continuing to do what we do best."

Starkey, who heads to what is commonly referred to as the Elite Eight round for the sixth time in his eight year tenure, commented on his 2010 team, "It's weird, they aren't really that different than our other teams. (Our) Other teams created a culture of hard work and wanting to win and these guys have followed up with that. They came in right off the bat, wanted to work hard and get better. They wanted to be pushed throughout the season and now they are reaping the rewards of that mentality."

They displayed that confidence from the opening serve tonight. Unlike in their first two regional matches this year, they came out and won the first set - in convincing fashion. The CU offense doubled-up in kills (17-8) over the Lopers as the Golden Bears hit .333 in the opener while the defense limited UNK to just .148 hitting.

In the second set, a hot Loper team battled back. UNK had won 21 of their previous 22 matches entering play and didn't fold after the decisive first set. There were 10 ties and two lead changes but in the end Concordia was able to score the final two points to break a 24-all tie to take the 2-0 lead.

In the third set, Concordia stepped on the gas as they blazed to a .480 hitting pct., holding UNK to .061 hitting in the process for the 25-12 match sealing victory.

Concordia played with a balanced offensive attack once again, paced by three players (junior Megan Carlson and sophomores Cassie Haag and Kara Pioske) with 11 kills apiece.

They were set by freshman Amanda Konetchy (Victoria, Minn.) with 44 assists as the team hit .333 for the match at her direction.

Starkey was asked about the balanced offensive attack of his hitters, and also credited his freshman setter, "We are known for a balanced attack, anyone can be hot on a given night which makes it difficult for teams to key on just one person. Usually our opponent has a game plan to shut 'this' down, and they do because it's volleyball. And our setters need to make the adjustment and set elsewhere. Amanda does a great job of that, and gets our hitters are hitting often against a single block."

Defensively, junior libero Taylor Fieldsted (Lakeville, Minn.) was one of the top defenders in the tournament and brought 11 digs to the table for the evening. But she was quick to credit the offense and the aggression of the attack, "We are going to continue to swing away. if we lose, we are going to lose swinging hard and being aggressive and to play our kind of volleyball."

Carlson had a great all-around tournament, bringing soaring attacks on offense with excellent defense and passing from the back row. But for Carlson, it wasn't about achieving a double-double, "Some people want to look at the stats and see how they do, but it's not until after the game that anyone sees that. During the game, it's about doing what you can to win and to get the job done. I would have no idea during the match what the stats are or anything like that, it just comes out that way at the end."

It did for Carlson, who logged double-doubles in all three tournament matches and has now reached the feat four straight matches and 15 times on the season. She finished with 11 kills and a team-high 17 digs on the night.

The Golden Bears were well-represented on the All-Tournament team with four selections, more than any other of the eight competing teams.