USC Aiken volleyball set for NCAA Tournament play
USC Aiken volleyball coach Glenn Cox knows it takes a lot of people clicking on all cylinders to string together wins in the NCAA Tournament.
He’s seen a lot of that from his team in past years and over the course of this season, and now is their chance to do it when every match is win-or-go-home. The Pacers, seeded second in the Southeast Region, open tournament play at 2:30 p.m. Thursday against seventh-seeded Lincoln Memorial at Wingate University.
“We’re playing well,” Cox said. “To play consistent enough to get through the Peach Belt this year and win the regular season with a team this young shows a lot of maturity in a lot of youngsters, and we definitely have the ability to come win this thing.”
USCA (21-4) wasn’t expected to be this good this season – the Pacers, with just two seniors on the roster, were picked fourth in the preseason coaches’ poll. Yet they blitzed the competition in league play, dropping only six total sets over their 11 conference wins. They avenged their only league loss by sweeping Augusta on Nov. 2, a victory that clinched the regular season title.
The Pacers fell in four sets to Georgia College in the semifinals of the conference tournament in a match that was close throughout.
Next up is a Lincoln Memorial (20-9) team that Cox described as a scrappy group with a lot of weapons. The Railsplitters took Wingate to four sets, winning a marathon second set 41-39, before falling in the South Atlantic Conference championship match.
USCA has won four consecutive matches against LMU, the most recent meeting a sweep last October at the Convocation Center. Cox knows his team has had the Railsplitters’ number lately, but he knows better than to take them lightly this time of year.
“We’ve been able to get the W. They’ve got a lot of people returning from a team that we beat last year, so we’re familiar with them,” he said. “I like the way we match up against them. But in this tournament, it’s a whole new season so everybody’s got to come out and get after it.”
The Pacers enter the NCAA Tournament ranked among the nation’s best in key categories like digs per set (No. 1), assists per set (No. 5) and kills per set (No. 7).
Junior middle blocker Christine Carroll and junior libero Rebecca Martinez were named first-team all-region Wednesday, the latest honors in a decorated season for the Pacers.
Carroll, the PBC Co-Player of the Year, is hitting .335 for the season and is 15th in the nation in points per set. Martinez repeated as league Libero of the Year and leads the country in digs per set, and her average in that category in conference play is the best in PBC history. Both were named first-team All-PBC, and sophomore outside hitter Alie Smith was a second-team selection.
“It’s awesome to have a group of kids that are producing the type of numbers to get those kind of accolades,” Cox said. “It’s not easy to do in this league. And we’re not a team that just sets one person; we’re a team that’s got a lot of different weapons. For us to have the standouts that we did was a huge honor, and we’re super happy for them.”
Cox was named PBC Coach of the Year for the third time in the last four seasons. His team led the conference in assists, digs and kills per set, and they held opponents to a league-best .117 hitting percentage – that’s good for 11th in the country.
Third-seeded Augusta, which won the PBC Tournament, and sixth-seeded Georgia College have the first match of the day, with first serve scheduled for noon. The winner advances to Friday’s second round to face the winner of the 2:30 p.m. match between USCA and LMU. No. 4 Anderson and No. 5 Lander are up next at 5 p.m., then No. 1 Wingate and No. 8 Emmanuel play at 7:30 p.m.