Nov. 18, 2009

By Amy Farnum

Just two points shy of claiming the Division II national championship in 2008, the Cal State San Bernardino women’s volleyball team has put themselves in position for another opportunity at the title as the NCAA Tournament begins this week.

The Coyotes put together a 29-1 record en route to their fourth straight California Collegiate Athletic Association championship and seventh in the last nine years, and will be the top seed and host of the ultra-competitive Division II West Regional on Nov. 19-21.

CSUSB has accomplished these feats despite losing three All-Americans from last year’s NCAA runner-up squad that fell in five games to Concordia St. Paul, which won its second straight title.

“I never dreamed that after losing three All-Americans of the caliber of kids that we lost last year that these kids would come out and have this kind of year so far,” said 19-year head coach Kim Cherniss.

With 14 freshmen and sophomores on the 19-member roster, the team is young, but not inexperienced after last year’s NCAA Tournament run and an always tough slate in the CCAA.

“Even though we have some youth, quite a few of the sophomores went through the journey with us last year when we made it to the championship match,” said Cherniss.  “They’re well aware of the taste of success at that level.  I think they are mature beyond their years in terms of knowing what they want to do.  They have a nice little edge about them that I like.  They are edgy on the court and stingy – they don’t want to give up points.  They want to win, they want to beat everyone.”

CSUSB, which ranks second nationally, is making its 10th consecutive NCAA appearance.  The Coyotes have advanced to the regional title match in each of the last nine years, and have won the regional three times – 2003, 2004 and 2008.

“I think there is a desire to keep the tradition going,” said Cherniss.  “Success breeds success.  Our success has enabled us to recruit kids that are used to winning – that have won at the high school and club levels.  They have a mentality that we’re going to figure out a way to get it done.”

The squad has just three seniors – two of them starters – but Cherniss says the younger players have the biggest voice on the team, something that bodes well for the future.

“I have always played a big premium on senior leadership, but this year is a little different,” said Cherniss.  “Last season, we had very vocal, highly statistically contributing seniors.   They were speaking up and had the stats to back it up.

Junior Jane Chafeh leads the team in kills per game (4.73), while sophomores Morgan Carty, Samantha Middleborn and Megan Johnson have all played key starting roles for the Coyotes.

As CSUSB enters regional play, it will be familiar with most of its tournament opponents and knows advancing to the quarterfinals will be a challenge.  Four – No. 2 UC San Diego, No. 3 Sonoma State, No. 6 Cal State L.A. and No. 7 San Francisco State -- are fellow CCAA members, while the Coyotes defeated No. 5 Alaska-Anchorage in a non-conference match earlier this season.  The Coyotes’ only loss of the season came at UC San Diego on Oct. 17.

“It’s tough because we play in arguably one of the best Division II conferences in the country,” said Cherniss.  “The CCAA is so strong, even the teams in the middle and upper end of the bottom tiers of our conference.  If you’re not completely on your game, they will take one away from you – they are not intimidated.  They could care less about rankings and win-loss records.”

The Coyotes are thankful to be hosting the tournament, although before last season they had never won a home regional.

“Last year, was really special for us to actually be able to celebrate a regional championship on our home court in front of our fans,” said Cherniss.  “I’m hoping that history repeats itself.”

Cal State San Bernardino begins its quest to return to the national title game with a first-round match-up against eighth-seeded Seattle Pacific on Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. PT.