Dec. 2, 2009

By Judd Spicer
Special to

If it’s indeed lonely at the top, then Concordia University (St. Paul, Minn.) women’s volleyball coach Brady Starkey and his Golden Bears are making hibernation en vogue. For the second-consecutive year, Concordia is hosting the DII National Championship, with play set to begin this Thursday at noon Central Time

A unanimous No. 1 in AVCA voting, Concordia (34-0) enters the Elite 8 tournament as DII’s two-time defending national champion.  The Golden Bears have dropped just five sets on the season and look to become the first three-time defending champ in either Divisions I or II since the NCAA began sponsoring the sport in 1981. Their active 71-match win streak is a DII record. Yet according to Starkey, the streak itself isn’t readily prevalent amidst the minds of his players.

“It’s something that we never talk about,” says Starkey, owner of the sport’s highest career win percentage (.922) across all levels of NCAA volleyball. “We try to concentrate on playing hard every night. The winning is a culmination of how hard the players have worked.”

While Starkey says that the streak hasn’t added any extra weight to his team’s quest, the coach is willing to admit that merit could have been found in the streak having been broken somewhere along the path to the Elite 8.

“[A loss] may have gotten the streak off our back a little bit,” he says. “A loss is always good for re-focusing a team. We’ve had a couple of close ones; one with UMD toward the end of the season that we won 3-2, and another against Metro State in the Regional Championship, which was thoroughly contested.”

The last team to both contest and defeat Concordia was Cal St. San Bernardino. The Coyotes (31-1) enter the tournament as champions of the West Region and the country’s No. 2 ranked team. In last season’s opening match for both teams, San Bernardino swept Concordia 3-0 en route to winning their own tournament. To bookend the rivalry, Concordia and San Bernardino then met in a heated DII title match won by the Golden Bears, 3-2.  Based on bracketology, the two would meet in the national semifinal should both advance past their respective opening matches.

The Coyotes face off against the University of Tampa Spartans (31-2), the South Region champion, in Thursday’s third quarterfinal match before Concordia closes out the first day of competition with a showdown versus Midwest Region champion University of Indianapolis (35-1).

“A rematch would have been cool,” Starkey said of a title rematch against the Coyotes. “But there are other good teams that are going to try to put a stop to us facing each other at all.”

In his seven years at the Concordia helm, Starkey has yet to run with Indy’s Greyhounds.

“We know they’re good; they only have the one loss,” Starkey says of the host team’s first matchup. “We have some game tape on them, but that really doesn’t do any justice unless you see a team in person. I think we’re going to have to figure it out as we go. But from what I’ve seen, they’re pretty fast and have a sophisticated offense. They run a quick tempo. It’s going to be a little different from what we’ve seen, but Metro State is pretty fast, so hopefully that experience will help us.”

Thursday’s two opening quarterfinal matches pit the East Region champion Dowling College Golden Lions (29-6) against the Southeast Region winner, Flagler College Saints (35-8) at noon. That match is followed at 2:30 (CT) with the South Central Region champion West Texas A&M Buffaloes (34-3) facing the California (PA) Vulcans (35-4), winners of the Atlantic Region.