No matter what happens on the court in State College, Pa., Dec. 6, this year’s Towson volleyball team will go down as one of the best in program history.
The Tigers (28-2) earned a berth in this year’s NCAA Tournament by winning the Colonial Athletic title. They went undefeated (18-0) throughout conference play and the conference tournament, something no CAA team had done since 1996. Towson will face American in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at 5 p.m. Dec. 6. Should the Tigers win, they’ll face Penn State or Princeton in the second round.
After going 16-0 in CAA play during the regular season, the Tigers beat Elon and James Madison for the conference tournament title. The Tigers’ last loss came at the hands of Coastal Carolina Sept. 13.
Head coach Don Metil pointed to road wins at James Madison Sept. 29 and Hofstra Oct. 27 as pivotal moments during his team’s current 22-match winning streak.
“To go into an on-the-road environment at James Madison and get the victory in a dominant four-set fashion … [and] the same thing happening up at Hostra, a very difficult place to win,” Metlin said. “Those were some marquee matchups along the way that kind of proved that 16-0 and 18-0 through conference wasn’t an easy task.”
If anything, Metil thinks the Tigers’ unprecedented streak of success could be something they will have to overcome against American.
“My only concern is that we’ve never gone five sets in conference,” he said. “So if American does push us and we find ourselves in uncharted territory, that’s my biggest question. How do we respond?”
Despite the extended layoff between matches — the Tigers last played Nov. 24 — neither Metil nor the team seems to think the momentum from their conference run has faded.
“I think we’re all super excited about what we’ve done and we want to keep going,” said freshman standout Lydia Wiers, who has 249 kills and 114 blocks this season. “Once we get out there, it will just be the same thing and we’ll all have fun with it.”
Success is all Wiers has known during her time at Towson. She recently earned the CAA Rookie of the Year and first-team all-conference honors. She ranks among the top ten in the nation in hitting percentage (.409). Her emergence as one of the team’s top middle blockers has helped key the Tigers’ historic season.
“Coming in we knew that she was probably going to have to start but we just didn’t know how much of a load she would be able to carry,” Metil said. “She’s been a nice person to be able to call on, because I think in all six rotations you have to respect our middles.”
Aside from her play on the court, Wiers has also contributed to what Metil believes is Towson’s biggest key to success this season: team culture.
“I was really excited to come over the summer and start working with everyone,” she said. “I knew that this season was going to be fun and challenging, and I think from the start, everyone was super driven to be as good as we can be and play the high-level volleyball that we have.”
That drive, she explains, was spurred by the team’s senior leaders even before the season started. Seniors Marrisa Wonders (1,199 assists), Silvia Grassini (225 kills, 124 blocks) and Olivia Finckel (310 kills) have led the way for the Tigers.
“They were determined from the start to have a successful season and everyone was like, ‘OK, yeah, we can do that. They’re saying we can and leading it,'” Wiers said. “So I think everyone just kind of had faith in what they were saying and were doing. We saw each one of them working hard and contributing in so many ways on and off the court that we just followed in their footsteps.”
Metil concurred with Wiers’ assessment.
“I think that’s what makes this program so special right now,” Metil said of the team’s culture. “We’ve had the talent before — I think last year we were just as talented, but culturally we just weren’t there. That’s a word that a lot of people use but a lot of people can’t define, and I think right now our team has defined who we are culturally very well.”
Metil and his team need only to point at their success on the court this season as proof that the program has found a new level. However, there are still skeptics on the other side that point to the Tigers’ lack of signature wins and a weak strength of schedule as signs that the Tigers — despite ranking 35th in the current RPI — are still somewhat of an unknown quantity.
“Looking back last year, we were 17-15 and we did play Ohio State, we played Arizona State, we played Missouri,” Coach Metil said. “This team is just as strong as last year’s team and we lost to Missouri in five at home in a competitive match [last year]. We talk about the milestones that this team has accomplished within our own program and the history of the program, but the RPI is what it is. We can’t control how good or bad it is.”
While knowing that an early exit in the tournament could shift the national perspective of Towson’s season, Metil isn’t worried about his team’s mindset and preparation heading into Friday’s match.
“Our next loss, if and when there becomes one, will be season-ending,” he said. “We’re not going to have the opportunity to rebound after that, so I think the momentum we’re carrying into the tournament is nothing but positive.”
The entire Division I volleyball bracket can be found here. A champion will be crowned Dec. 21.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Towson Athletics