Maryland-Eastern Shore isn’t intimidated at the thought of facing Nebraska in the first round of the NCAA volleyball tournament.
After all, the Hawks had to play national champion UCLA in their opener last year. They lost 3-0.
“We’ve played in some big arenas before,” associate head coach Eric Hammond said. “I know they have a very intense fan base. Their fans are very loud and passionate, but they are not rude. They’ll just be loud. We know there will be a sea of red.”
The teams will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in the NU Coliseum. Northern Iowa and Kansas State open competition at 4:30 p.m.
Maryland-Eastern Shore is making its second trip to nationals after going 28-5 and winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Despite battling injuries, the young squad went 11-1 in league play. They lost their last regular-season match but rebounded to win three straight to win the conference tournament title.
Hammond and head coach Don Metil got a taste of what to expect Thursday when they watched the fourth-seeded Huskers play in the Final Four in Omaha in 2009. They know they’ll face a much taller team with multiple threats.
Still, Maryland-Eastern Shore plays fast and hits hard, Hammond said.
“We’re pretty scrappy on defense,” he said.
Outside hitter Saitaua Iosia at 5-foot-10 and 6-foot middle blocker Ndidi Ibe lead the Maryland-Eastern Shore attack.
Iosia has 376 kills with a .286 hitting percentage, 62 aces (second in Division I in aces per set at 0.71) and 219 digs. She was named the MEAC tournament most outstanding player as she had 25 kills in the championship match against Florida A&M. She was chosen national player of the week early in the season. Ibe has 244 blocks in her two years at Maryland-Eastern Shore.
Setter Jessie Vicic has toppled the school’s all-time assist mark with 2,574, and she earned first-team All-MEAC honors for the second straight season. This year, she has 1,365 assists and 256 digs.
“Jess does a great job of running the offense — she’s very steady and consistent,” Hammond said.
To stick with NU, Hammond said, the Hawks will have to be perfect on the timing of their attack and block, play faster, be disciplined in defensive positioning and be ready to dig hard-driven balls at any time.
He likes that the Hawks never count themselves out of a match. They’ve had eight matches go five sets and have won them all, including two in the conference tournament.
“They always have confidence in themselves,” Hammond said, “and fight to the very last point.”
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