Business is about to pick up this weekend as four of the Atlantic 10’s best teams compete for the opportunity at national glory in this year’s A-10 tournament. With the parity in the A-10 this year and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament at stake, the games are assured to be highly competitive.
Seedings are meaningless this year. All four teams can win, especially with the tournament in the home state of the third and fourth seeds. Here’s an analytical breakdown of each team, and why they all have a shot at winning this year’s Atlantic 10 Volleyball Championship.
Dayton (18-10, 10-6 A-10)
Fourth-seeded Dayton squeaked into the conference tournament with a 3-0 victory over Fordham in the final game of the regular season.
The Flyers needed the win to force a head-to-head tiebreaker against Massachusetts, in which they owned a five-games-to-three advantage over two matches.
What makes the Flyers especially dangerous is the fact that they have home court advantage. Dayton has proven to be a much better team at home, going 6-2 in the conference this year at the Fredricks Center.
Senior outside-hitter Sierra Ashley leads the Flyers. She finished fourth in the conference in total kills (407), and sixth in digs (3.42 per game).
Statistically, Dayton ranks with the best in the conference, and their home-court edge cannot be ignored.
Xavier (22-7, 13-3)
The third-seeded Musketeers are making their third straight tournament appearance. They could easily be the top seed this year, but all three defeats have come against the top two seeds in Temple (one loss) and George Washington (two losses).
A-10 Player of the Year candidate Sara Bachus leads Xavier. The junior outside hitter finished the regular season first in hitting percentage (.372) and third in total kills (430).
Despite their strong record, Xavier will need to win out to get into the NCAA Tournament. Historically, the NCAA selection committee only takes the automatic bid from the A-10 because it is generally viewed as a weak conference. Temple and George Washington are two teams that could change that this year, but it all depends on how the tournament plays out.
With the tournament being held in their home state of Ohio, it is assumed that the Musketeers will have a home court advantage of their own. If Bachus gets hot and Xavier brings their “A” game, the Musketeers will certainly have a chance.
Temple (18-9, 13-3 A-10)
The Owls, winners of three consecutive A-10 championships, come into the tournament as the favorite despite being the No. 2 seed. The Owls’ four seniors — Alma Kovaci, Teresa Schumacher, Maria Vutskova and Brandy Best — have never lost a conference tournament game since coming to Temple in 1997, and will look to graduate with four league crowns in as many years.
Led by reigning A-10 Player of the Year and All-America candidate Alma Kovaci, the Owls have steamrolled through the A-10 this season. Temple began conference play by winning ten straight games before dropping two games in Ohio and one at home to Massachusetts.
Kovaci will most likely garner her second Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Honor. She led the conference in kills (492), and is third in the conference in digs, which displays her defensive prowess as well.
The Owls hold a 4-2 regular season record against the three tournament participants, including a two-match sweep over the top-seeded Colonials.
Capturing the tournament championship would give the Owls an automatic bid, but the Owls also have a shot at a rare at-large selection. Nearly half of Temple’s losses came against nationally ranked opponents during their brutal West Coast swing earlier this season. In addition, the Owls also defeated three Big East teams in Rutgers, Georgetown and Villanova, which will be hard for the NCAA selection committee to overlook.
According to the NCAA Regional polls, GW is currently ranked fifth in Northeast Region. The Owls are second behind nationally ranked Notre Dame (21st). If the Temple loses a competitive game to the Colonials after defeating them twice in the regular season, there is a chance that the Owls will also get invited to the Big Dance.
According to Temple head coach Bob Bertucci, if this scenario plays out, his team would have about a 40-percent chance of getting in.
But Temple wants to leave nothing to chance.
George Washington (23-5, 14-2 A-10)
The top-seeded Colonials have played with a purpose all year.
Their season began tragically with the death of their head coach Yvette Moorehead last summer. Since then, incumbent head coach Jojit Coronel has led George Washington to a 23-win season and the regular season title. Coronel is now the favorite to win the A-10 Coach of the Year award.
The Colonials contain a unique mix of power, height and senior leadership. George Washington is arguably the best blocking team in the A-10, and they have a solid one-two punch in seniors Tracee Brown and Renee Arnold. Both players are potential All-Conference selections, and both lead their team in just about every offensive category.
Brown sprained her ankle in the final regular season game against Duquesne, and her status for the tournament is unknown. If she cannot compete, this loss may prove to be costly for the Colonials.
Similar to Temple, if the Colonials defeat Dayton and have a strong showing in the championship round, they could also get an at-large bid. Yet, with two losses to Temple and a loss to Georgetown in the regular season, their case is not as strong as the Owls’.
During the regular season, Temple and George Washington put together two classic A-10 battles. It would only be fitting to see Temple and George Washington clash once more with everything at stake.
The home crowd will play a role in the Dayton-George Washington matchup, but the depth and senior leadership of the Colonials will prove to be too much for the Flyers. George Washington has not had problems with any team in the A-10 this year, except Temple. So expect to see the Colonials advance in the championship game.
Similarly, Temple seniors should play a crucial role against Xavier. The Owls have been there before, and the loss against Massachusetts last week could serve as a wake up call at the Musketeers’ expense.
Xavier will not fold easily, but the Owls’ seniors have too much big game experience.
If the seedings hold it should be deja vu for Temple and George Washington.
One could make a legitimate case for a first and second All-Conference team using players from these two teams alone.
The teams are mirror images: senior leadership, strong outside-hitters, and depth at all positions. But keep in mind that the Colonials’ two conference losses came against the Owls, and in any sport, it is extremely tough to beat a good team three times in the same season. For that reason alone, I will take the presidential election route and determine this game too close to call.
Earlier this week
The Owls defeated cross-town rival Villanova three games to none this past Tuesday at the Nevin Fieldhouse in Villanova. The scores to the games were15-8, 15-11 and 15-5.
Alma Kovaci once again led the Owls with 20 kills and 14 digs, both game highs, while Brandy Best chipped in 13 digs and three service aces for Temple.
After last week’s loss to Massachusetts, this game served as a key tune-up to for the Owls to get back on the winning track before this weekend’s tournament.
“Mentally, we wanted to go into our championship [tournament] with a win,” Bertucci said. “It didn’t matter who was on the other side. They were very upset with their performance against UMass, and they took it out on Villanova.”
The Owls will play in the second half of the doubleheader Saturday at 3 p.m. against Xavier. The winner will advance to the championship game to play the George Washington/Dayton winner Sunday at 1 p.m.