Volleyball Set to Compete in NCAA Championship

Dec. 1, 2004

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The JU volleyball team (15-13, 8-2 Atlantic Sun) will play in its first NCAA Championship in the Division I era as the Dolphins face No. 6 Stanford (24-6, 15-3 Pac-10) in first round action on Friday, Dec. 3, at 5 p.m. in Gaither Gymnasium. No. 13 Florida (27-4, 15-1 SEC) will take on Florida A&M (28-2, 10-0 MEAC) at 7 p.m. in the other first round match. The winners of Friday's matches will meet on Saturday, December 4 at 7 p.m. with the winner advancing to the NCAA Regional in Green Bay, Wisconsin (Dec. 10-11). Stanford, which is the tournament's 11th overall national seed, is one of just four schools to have earned bids in all 24 championships, while JU is one of eight schools making its initial appearance in the tourney. Other schools making their first NCAA appearance include Albany, Iona, Long Island, Rice, Towson, Wichita State and Yale. Stanford joins Pacific, Penn State and UC Santa Barbara as teams to have appeared in every NCAA Volleyball Championship.

How They Got Here: The Dolphins entered the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship as the No. 4-seed and defeated No. 5 UCF (3-0) in the first round of the tournament on Nov. 19. That same day, the Dolphins knocked off No. 1 Florida Atlantic (3-2) to advance to the finals. On Nov. 20, JU captured its first A-Sun Championship crown and NCAA Championship bid with a 3-2 win over No. 2-seed Belmont.

How They Got Here the First Time: JU earned its first and only bid to the NCAA postseason tournament during the 1983 season after finishing 35-9 on the year, while also clinching the Sun Belt Conference regular-season and tournament titles (Division II). The Dolphins advanced to the second round of the championship after defeating Mansfield, 3-1, before eventually falling to Air Force, 3-2, in the Elite Eight. JU was ranked as high as No. 11 before ending the year at No. 13 in the national polls. It marked the first women's team to be ranked nationally and compete in postseason play.

JU Versus the Field: STANFORD - JU has never played an opponent from the Pacific-10 Conference. In fact, the only match the Dolphins have faced against a west coast opponent was a 3-2 loss to the University of Portland on Sept. 5, 1998. Stanford has never lost in the first round of the NCAA Championship and has lost only once in the second round. John Dunning is in his fourth season at the helm of The Cardinal program. Stanford is led by Olympian Ogonna Nnamani, who ranks sixth nationally with 5.89 kpg. Setter Bryn Kehoe paces the offense with 12.07 kills per game while Kristin Richards leads the defense with 3.65 digs per game. JU has never faced Stanford in any intercollegiate sport during the regular-season. In 2001, Stanford defeated the JU women's soccer team, 1-0, in an exhibition game at the Ashley Sports Complex in Jacksonville. The Dolphin softball team is scheduled to play The Cardinal during the USF Wilson Tournament on Feb. 19.

FLORIDA - The Gators lead the all-time series over the Dolphins, 12-0. In the last meeting between the two schools, Florida handed JU a 3-0 loss on Sept. 1, 1999 in Gainesville, Fla. Head coach Mary Wise is in her 18th year with the Florida program. The Gators are led by Jane Collymore (5.05 kpg/3.05 dpg) and setter Angie McGinnis (10.97 apg), while Rachel Engel leads the defense with 4.26 digs per game.

FLORIDA A&M - The Dolphins hold a 14-10 advantage in the all-time series, but the Lady Rattlers have won the last two matches without dropping a game. Earlier this year, Florida A&M earned a 3-0 win over JU on Oct. 28 at Gaither Gymnasium. Head coach Tony Trifonov is in his eighth season with the program and currently enters the tournament with a 27-match win streak. The Lady Rattlers are led by Adriana Kostadinova (4.79 kpg/2.44 dpg) and setter Mariela Portocarrero (12.92 apg), while Andreina Ruiz leads the defense with 3.97 dpg.

JU Versus Field of 64: The Dolphins have competed against 12 of the 64 teams in the NCAA Championship all-time and have combined for a 22-39 record since the program began in 1972. JU has faced College of Charleston, Eastern Kentucky, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, Tennessee, Valparaiso and Winthrop. This year, the Dolphins dropped a 3-0 contest to Ohio on Sept. 10. JU holds a winning record against Florida A&M (14-10) and Winthrop (4-0) in the all-time series.

Sweet Home Tallahassee: Tallahassee has become the second home for JU athletics as volleyball became the third sport to be designated to the city in an NCAA postseason event. Baseball has played in Tallahassee for its past three NCAA appearances (1999, 2001, 2003), including stops in 1994 and 1976. Women's soccer also made the trip to Tallahassee during the program's only NCAA appearance in 2000.

A-Sun and the NCAA's: Since the Atlantic Sun Conference began competing in the NCAA Tournament in 1994, the conference is 4-10 overall, including a first-round victory by UCF over Cincinnati (3-2) last year in Gainesville, Fla. UCF is the only member of the A-Sun to win an NCAA match, while JU joined UCF, Florida Atlantic and Georgia State as the only members of the conference to advance to the tournament.

Not a Good Start...: After starting the 2003 season with a 1-10 record, including 10 consecutive losses, JU couldn't shake its trend as the Dolphins started the 2004 campaign with an 0-8 mark.

...But Not a Bad Finish: The 2003 squad ended the year with 14-4 mark to finish with a 15-14 record, including a program-record 11-match win streak. In 2004, JU followed its trend again by going 15-5 to end the year including a program-record 10-match win streak against Atlantic Sun opponents.

Deja Vu?: There is a strange connection or trend beginning to show when you compare the yearly results of the 2004 Dolphins to last season's JU squad. In 2003, the squad opened the season with a 1-10 record including a 10-match losing streak. The Dolphins responded with an 11-match winning streak which included eight sweeps (four in a row). The date in which the squad began its turnaround was on Sept. 26. In 2004, the Dolphins opened the season with eight consecutive losses before rattling off 15 wins in their final 20 matches. During that time, the squad has recorded a program record 10 consecutive wins over Atlantic Sun Conference opponents, while also winning nine matches by a score of 3-0. The Dolphins began their winnings ways on Sept. 25 with a 3-1 victory over Mercer at Swisher Gymnasium.

Job Well Done: First-year head coach Kevin Paul maneuvered through the high's and low's of 2004 to lead the Dolphins to their most successful season in the Division I era. Paul spent the past three years as the head assistant to the Dolphin program before being named to the head position on April 6, 2004. The Dolphins established new program records with 10 consecutive wins over A-Sun opponents while averaging 17.98 digs per... game, including a program-best 121 against Mercer on Sept. 25. JU advanced out of the first round of the A-Sun Championship for the first time in program history and received the most all-tournament selections since joining the A-Sun in 1998.

Stoilova Named All-Atlantic Sun: Sophomore outside hitter Eva Stoilova joined Tara Burton (1998), Carrie Arago (1999, 2002) and Radka Dimitrova (2003) as the only Dolphins to receive First-Team Atlantic Sun All-Conference honors since 1998. Stoilova emerged as the Dolphins' top offensive weapon by leading the squad with an average of 3.13 kills per game. Last season, she was named to the Atlantic Sun All-Freshman team after ranking sixth in the nation with 2.35 aces per game.

A-Sun All-Tournament Honors: Junior middle hitter Lindsay Ward earned A-Sun Championship Most Valuable Player honors after leading the Dolphins with 46 kills and a .371 hitting percentage in three matches. She joins Ann Morton (1983) and Gisela Anderson (1987) as the only Dolphins to receive conference tournament MVP accolades in program history. Sophomore outside hitter Eva Stoilova was named to the all-tournament team after recording 47 digs, 38 kills and three double-doubles in three matches. Junior outside hitter Joanna Silva also earned all-tournament accolades after shattering the A-Sun Championship record for digs with 63 in three matches. She also posted two double-double (kills/digs) in the final two matches. The trio gave the Dolphins the most selections to a postseason tournament since Gisela Anderson, Wendy Dowd and Carrie Yoder were named Sun Belt Conference All-Tournament in 1987.

Dolphins in the A-Sun Rankings: JU solidified itself in the top five amongst the 11-team conference in several team and individual categories. As a team, the Dolphins ranked second in the conference in digs (18.39 dpg), third in blocks (2.04 bpg), and assists (13.13 apg), fourth in kills (14.46 kpg) and fifth in hitting percentage (.203) and opponent hitting percentage (.208). Individually, junior middle hitter Danielle Neville ranked second in blocks (1.08 bpg), junior middle hitter Lindsay Ward was sixth in hitting percentage (.287), senior libero Kelly Ryals was eighth in digs (3.79 dpg) and junior setter Erin Donivan was eighth in assists (8.85 apg).

Ryals Climbing the Charts: Senior libero Kelly Ryals had been a consistent force for the Dolphins since she began her career in the 2000 season. She has led the squad in digs for the past three seasons after sitting out the 2001 campaign with a knee injury. In 2004, Ryals posted a career-high 29 digs against Campbell and Florida Atlantic in the A-Sun Championship Semifinals. The two-time team captain currently ranks third in the career record books with 1,069 digs.

Neville Sets New Standards: Junior middle hitter Danielle Neville continues to carve her name into the Dolphin record books in blocks. Neville currently holds the program record for career block assists with 278, including the fourth-best total in Dolphin history (105) as a freshman in 2002. Neville also ranks third in solo blocks (46) and fifth in total blocks (324) in the career record books.

Ward of the State: Junior middle hitter Lindsay Ward has enjoyed a breakout season in 2004 after serving mostly as a role player in her first two seasons. Ward, who was the only member of the squad to play in every game this season, finished the year with a team-best .287 hitting percentage. In her first 14 matches, Ward managed only three double-digit kill efforts and only five matches with a hitting percentage above .300. In her final 14 matches, the team captain tallied double-digit kills in 11 contests, while hitting better than .300 in nine matches.

Silva Springs Into Action: A major boast to the Dolphins' big finish this season was the play of junior outside hitter Joanna Silva. A transfer from Fort Smith (Ark.) JC, Silva had trouble overcoming a slow start to the season and was used primarily off the bench. Once November came around, she made her way into the starting lineup. Silva posted three double-doubles (kills/digs), four double-digit kill efforts and four double-digit dig matches. Silva posted a career-high 14 kills in the A-Sun Championship match against Belmont after tallying a career-best 33 digs against Florida Atlantic on Nov. 19.

Kill Factor: Another reason for the Dolphins' improvement from their 0-8 start was the play of senior outside hitter Candice Rose. During JU's first two-match win streak, the native of Mechanicsville, Md., recorded 38 kills (4.75 kpg), a .306 hitting percentage (38-8-98), 15 digs (1.88 dpg) and eight blocks (1.00 bpg). She has also managed to lead the squad with a career-high 19 kills in each match.

Borisova Goes Ballistic: One of the Dolphins' most productive players during the season, sophomore outside hitter Petya Borisova had her consecutive double-double streak ended at four matches after tallying only two kills and two digs against Lipscomb on Oct. 2. In her previous four matches (Sept. 24-Oct. 1), Borisova posted a double-double against Georgia State (13 digs, 12 kills), Mercer (19 digs, 17 kills), Stetson (20 digs, 11 kills) and Belmont (15 kills, 13 digs). During her streak, the Sofia, Bulgaria, native posted 55 kills, 65 digs and five blocks, five assists and three aces. She finished the season with a career-high eight double-doubles, which ranked third on the squad.

A Streak and a Milestone: JU has had a busy week with streaks being ended and established, while new milestones were etched into the record books since the Dolphins defeated Mercer on Sept. 25. With the win, JU snapped a nine-match losing streak dating back to last season, including an 0-8 start in 2004. The squad also earned the first victory for the program under first-year head coach Kevin Paul.

Jack of All Trades: Senior libero Kelly Ryals has proven to be the most versatile member of the Dolphin squad after serving two roles on a whim. After starting as JU's libero in the squad's first two losses of the 2004 season, head coach Kevin Paul decided to make something happen with the lineup before facing Mercer. One of those moves was placing Ryals on the outside and the results proved to be one of the few bright spots of the weekend. Ryals finished with 18 kills and 16 digs to record the first double-double of the season and the first double-digit kill mark for the Dolphins this season. It was the ninth double-double (kill/dig) effort of her career.

Hickman Named All-Tourney: Sophomore setter Erin Hickman has taken advantage of her opportunity as the primary setter for the Dolphin offense after adjustments were made to the JU lineup. In the first three matches of the season, Hickman shared the setter duties with junior Erin Donivan, while senior Kelly Ryals was slated in the libero position. To help spark the offense, Ryals was moved to outside hitter while Donivan took over the libero spot. In three matches after the lineup changes, Hickman recorded her first career triple-double (33 assists, 13 kills and 12 digs) against George Washington and tallied her eighth 40-assist match of her career (42) against Binghamton. During that span, she also hit .290 (26-8-62). For her efforts, she was selected to the George Washington Invitational All-Tournament Team.

Nice Move: While juggling his lineup in the first month of the season, first-year head coach Kevin Paul made his most significant move of the year when he made junior Erin Donivan the primary setter. In the first few weeks of the season, Donivan and sophomore setter Erin Hickman rotated as the pacemaker for the Dolphin offense. Donivan also served as a the squad's libero for four matches until making her first start on Sept. 24. Since taking over the setter role, Donivan posted at least 20 assists in 21 of the final 22 matches. She also saved her best for last by tallying a career-high 62 assists against Florida Atlantic and Belmont in the final two matches of the A-Sun Championship. As a team, the Dolphins finished the season with a 15-5 record while seeing their hitting percentage jump from .173 to .203. Donivan also delivered on defense as well by posting 15 double-digit dig efforts on the year which led to a career-high 11 double-doubles (assists/digs) on the year.

It'll Be Short Either Way: Of the 28 matches played by the Dolphins this season, 15 were decided by a 3-0 margin (nine wins, six losses). JU is 2-6 in four-game contests and 4-1 in five-game matches, including the Atlantic Sun Semifinal and Championship Match.

Weathering the Storm: Jacksonville was one of the programs most effected by the arrival of Hurricane Frances on Sept. 5-6 as the Dolphins were forced to cancel five matches to begin the season (three road, two home). JU was scheduled to compete in the USF Invitational in Tampa, Fla., on Sept. 3-4, but flight cancellations by George Mason and UT-Chattanooga ended the event. The Dolphins' home opener on Sept. 6 was also cancelled due to TCU not wanting to make the four-day, 1,021-mile trip through Gainesville and Jacksonville. The Dolphins' home match against Bethune-Cookman on Sept. 14, at 7:30 p.m. was also cancelled due to structural damage on the campus of Bethune-Cookman College. The Wildcats were unable to practice from Sept. 3-12. Only two matches (Nov. 16 at USF/Nov. 25 vs. Bethune-Cookman) were made up.

Dolphin Notables: Assistant coach Cerina Pele (Gardena, Calif.) played collegiately at Florida State and competed in the NCAA Tournament with the Seminoles in 2002...senior libero Kelly Ryals and her brother, Jason (JU baseball), will both have competed in Tallahassee for the NCAA Championship when the Dolphins play Stanford on Friday night.