COMING UP: For the eighth time in the last 14 years, Pacific Lutheran will compete in the NCAA Division III national tournament. The Lutes open regional action at 12:30 p.m. Friday when they face the Chapman Panthers in Thousand Oaks, Calif. The regional tournament will be played in Gilbert Sports and Fitness Center on the California Lutheran University campus. PLU and Chapman play the first of four opening-round matches.
TOURNAMENT PAIRINGS: The regional tournament action on Friday looks like this - MATCH 1: No. 7 seed PLU (20-5) vs. No. 2 seed Chapman (23-6), 12:30 p.m.; MATCH 2: No. 6 seed Colorado College (23-9) vs. No. 3 seed Puget Sound (19-5), 3 p.m.; MATCH 3: No. 5 seed La Verne (21-5) vs. No. 4 seed Hardin-Simmons (29-3); MATCH 4: No. 8 seed Southwestern TX (15-10) vs. No. 1 seed Cal Lutheran (27-4). Saturday action has winners of the first and second matches meeting at 3:30 p.m., followed by a 6 p.m. contest between winners from the third and fourth matches. The regional tournament championship is scheduled to being at noon on Sunday. The tournament is single elimination, so once a team loses it is finished for the season.
TOURNAMENT WEB SITE: http://www.clusports.com/pages/tournaments/2012vbNCAARegional.php
WATCH LIVE: Tournament video stream - http://www.clusports.com/video/
LISTEN LIVE: Catch all of the PLU action - http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/plu.portal#
NATIONAL TOURNAMENT SELECTION: The 64-team national tournament field is broken into eight eight-team regional tournaments to be played between Nov. 8-11. The regional tournament winners advance to the national tournament slated for Nov. 15-17 in Holland, Mich. A total of 42 conference champions were awarded automatic qualification, two teams were selected from Pool B, which consists of independent schools and school that are members of conferences that do not meet the requirements for automatic qualification, and the final 20 berths were reserved for Pool C, which consists of schools from automatic-qualifying conferences that are not the conference champion. Regional competition will take place on Friday-Sunday, Nov. 9-11, at all host schools except Calvin (Grand Rapids, Mich.) and St. Thomas (St. Paul, Minn.), which has competition slated for Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 8-10. Other regional tournament host schools are The Cal Lutheran (Thousand Oaks, Calif.), Christopher Newport (Newport News, Va.), Clarkson (Potsdam, N.Y.), Connecticut College (New London, Conn.), Elmhurst (Elmhurst, Ill.), and Salisbury (Salisbury, Md.).
ABOUT THE REGIONAL PARTICIPANTS IN SEED ORDER: No. 1 Cal Lutheran, the host, is 27-4 overall and ranked seventh in this week's American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division III Top 25. The Regals qualified for the tournament by winning the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) regular season and postseason tournament championships. They hosted and won a 2011 Division III regional but lost their opening round match at the national tournament. Outside hitter Kylie McLogan is ranked sixth in Division III with 4.35 kills per set. She was recently named AVCA Division III Player of the Week. No. 2 Chapman, 23-6, was the SCIAC regular season and tournament runner-up and received a Pool C at-large bid. The Panthers are ranked 21st in the AVCA national poll. Junior setter Corinne Ostrovsky leads all of Division III with 11.68 assists per set. No. 3 Puget Sound, 19-5 and ranked 12th, received an at-large bid after finishing second to PLU in the Northwest Conference. The Loggers likely received a higher seed than the Lutes because of their three-set win over PLU last week. Junior outside hitter Jackie Harvey is the 2012 NWC Player of the Year. No. 4 Hardin-Simmons, 29-3 and unranked, claimed its third consecutive American Southwest Conference (ASC) title to earn its fourth trip to the NCAA tournament. Madison Reyes has been named the ASC's most valuable player for the second straight year. She led the ASC with 380 kills and averaged 3.25 kills per set. No. 5 La Verne, 21-5 and ranked 25th, picked up a Pool C at-large entry into the tournament after finishing third in the SCIAC regular season, before being eliminated in the SCIAC tournament semifinal. Randi Taylor-Toomay averages 4.22 kills per set to lead the Leopards, who have a rich NCAA postseason history. La Verne captured an NCAA title in 2001 and was NCAA runner up in 2008, and also reached the NCAA semifinals from 2003-05. No. 6 Colorado College, 23-9 and ranked 18th, is playing in its 15th consecutive NCAA Division III postseason after winning its third straight Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference title. No. 7 PLU, 20-5 and ranked 16th, won the Northwest Conference championship and makes its eighth NCAA postseason tournament appearance. The Lutes are led by NWC Libero of the Year Blair Bjorkman, who averages 5.78 digs per set. No. 8 Southwestern TX, 15-10 and unranked, makes its eighth straight tournament appearance after receiving a Pool C bid. Rachel Thibodeau averages a team-best 3.26 kills per set. Of those eight teams, six - Cal Lutheran, Chapman, Hardin-Simmons, Colorado College, PLU and Southwestern - participated in the 2011 regional also hosted by Cal Lutheran.
MORE ABOUT THE LUTES: Pacific Lutheran has played in the NCAA Division III postseason tournament each of the seven years that it has won the Northwest Conference championship (1999, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012), and it also received an at-large bid (2011), making a total of eight appearances in 14 years. PLU is 2-7 in those matches, including six straight losses. The program's last win in the NCAA tournament came in 2004 against Mt. Ida (Iowa). During that six-match loss streak the Lutes have had to play on numerous occasions with an injury-depleted roster. In consecutive years all-conference middle blocker Kelcy Joynt suffered a season-ending knee injury before regionals, and when she was healthy as a senior three-time All-American outside hitter Beth Hanna was lost just prior to the tournament with an ACL injury. This year's team will have to deal with the same issue as all-region setter Samantha North (ACL) and starting outside hitter Allison Wood (broken wrist) are out.
LAST YEAR: Pacific Lutheran took a lead after three sets but ended up losing a five-set nail-biter to Occidental College, 25-17, 24-26, 23-25, 25-17, 15-8, at the 2011 regional tournament in Thousand Oaks. Chapman won its first match against Southwestern 25-20, 25-19, 20-25, 25-21, but fell to Cal Lutheran in the semifinal, 25-21, 26-24, 25-22.
LUTE NOTES: Junior middle blocker Bethany Huston ranks fourth in Division III volleyball with 1.34 blocks per set and she currently leads the Lutes with 2.56 kills per set. The Lutes will miss the 2.52 kills average provided by Allison Wood, but junior outside hitter Haley Urdahl has produced 2.46 kills per set. Since Samantha North's injury, senior setter Brianne Vincent has filled in nicely with an average of 9.0 assists per set as a starter. Senior Blair Bjorkman averages 5.78 digs per set and she also leads the team wtih 32 service aces. Defense will be important for the Lutes, and they are rank 23rd nationally with 2.19 blocks per set and 17th nationally with 19.63 digs per set.
PLU PLAYERS, COACH HONORED: Pacific Lutheran placed three players - setter Samantha North, middle blocker Bethany Huston and libero Blair Bjorkman - on the 2012 All-Northwest Volleyball First Team. Additionally, Bjorkman earned NWC Libero of the Year honors, and head coach Kevin Aoki was selected as NWC Coach of the Year. Junior outside hitter Haley Urdahl earned honorable mention All-Northwest Conference accord. North (Gig Harbor, Wash. / Gig Harbor HS), a sophomore, was the only conference player to repeat first team honors from the 2011 season. She finished her season averaging 10.14 assists, 2.89 digs and 0.56 blocks per set. She also averaged 1.32 kills while compiling a .301 attack percentage. Huston (Kennewick, Wash. / Kamiakin HS), an honorable mention all-conference choice last year, Huston leads the Lutes with 1.32 blocks and 2.56 kills per set while hitting .263. Like Huston, Bjorkman (Puyallup, Wash. / Puyallup HS) received honorable mention all-conference recognition in 2011. This year, the senior averages of 5.78 digs per set. Urdahl (Oregon City, Ore. / Clackamas HS) is one of the Lutes' top players with averages of 2.46 kills and 3.21 digs per set. Aoki, who has posted a 302-142 record in 17 years as head coach, has earned NWC Coach of the Year honors seven times - 1999, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2012.
TOURNAMENT PROGRAM: The NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Championship program will be available soon at www.ncaa.com/diiiWomensVolleyball.
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