Volleyball heads to Nashville to defend conference title

Nov. 16, 2005

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Jacksonville volleyball team hopes to be making some sweet music in the Music City this weekend as the Dolphins defend their Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament title starting Friday.

The Dolphins (15-13) open the tournament as the No. 2 seed, despite injuries depleting the roster to just eight players. With the highest seeding ever in JU history, the Dolphins also have earned a bye in the tournament and will face the winner of the Belmont-East Tennessee State match, Friday evening in the semifinals.

"I think having the bye in the first round is a blessing for us this year with the way we finished," said JU head coach Kevin Paul. "I feel pretty strong about the fact we will face Belmont in the second round. The last two meetings between us have been dog fights with us being able to stay focused a little more in the fifth game both times. I expect it to be the same way, especially with it being at their place. This is what we've been planning for all year, so we're excited to get started."

After a 1-9 start, the Dolphins have emerged as one of the hottest teams in the A-Sun entering the tournament. JU has rattled off 14 wins in its last 18 matches, going 8-1 in conference play.

"It wasn't planned either year to start off so slow and finish as strong as we have," Paul said. "The one thing we really try to do here is play a tough non-conference schedule to help prepare for our A-Sun teams. It seems to have worked for us so far but we certainly would like to have a few of those early season matches go the other way.

"I'm proud of the way the teams have finished out. It could be an ugly situation when you begin your year with those losses, but our kids understand what is most important. They tend to step up and use the experience of playing the bigger teams against the teams that count."

But that late surge has been costly. Joanna Silva was lost for the rest of the season with an injury. Petya Borisova has been nursing an injury for the past month and Eva Stoilova has missed several of the last few matches to get ready for the tournament.

"We are looking a little bit better as of today," Paul said. "We will be without Joanna and we are very sad that she had to end her Dolphin career that way. She was a very important player for us all the way around."

A win in the semifinals sets up a potential rematch against No. 1 seed Florida Atlantic, which went undefeated through the conference schedule.

"FAU has had a great year with a great player to lead them in Kelly Paiva," Paul said. "We would love to have a rematch with them in the finals. I think our players would expect to see them if we get past round two and I'm sure they remember the loss back in late October. It would make for an exciting final."