Pioneers Roll Into Northeast Conference Tournament In Search of Back-to-Back Titles
SETTING THE SCENE
The defending NEC champion Sacred Heart women's volleyball team heads to Brooklyn, NY looking to complete an impressive 2011 campaign with a second straight league title. The Pioneers are the number two seed in this year's tournament by virtue of a coin flip after all tie breakers with the Long Island Blackbirds were exhausted. SHU boasts the most wins of any team in the tournament (25) and heads into the weekend on a seven game winning streak, which includes triumphs over the NEC Tournament's top-seed LIU as well as four seed Robert Morris. Last season the Pioneers claimed the programs first-ever NEC Championship with a five set victory over Central Connecticut State before routing Robert Morris, 3-0, in the title contest.
FLYING HIGH IN THE RPI
Sacred Heart owns the highest RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) of any team in the Northeast Conference at 84. The closest league member to the Pioneers is Long Island who is ranked at 147. The Pioneers gave scares to a pair of teams in the RPIs top-40 in 3-1 losses to both Ball State (36) and Marquette (40). SHU has improved its RPI every season since head coach Rob Machan's arrival as the program was ranked over 300 at the conclusion of the 2006 season.
PUT AWAY THE BROOMS
The Pioneers have become the toughest team in the Northeast Conference to sweep, 3-0. SHU has only suffered that fate twice in each of the last two seasons, including last year in the NCAA Tournament against #3 Nebraska. Conversely, the Pioneers have rung up 16 victories via 3-0 sweeps so far in 2011.
BIG SCHOOLS - BIG WINS
The SHU women's volleyball team defeated a trio of teams from the traditional top tier conferences. The Pioneers picked up convincing wins over both UConn and Rutgers of the BIG EAST. Sacred Heart rounds out its big name resume with a five set win over Maryland, marking the first time SHU has ever knocked off an ACC program. The Pioneers also claimed the tournament championship at the Spring Hill Suites at Arundel Mills Invitational, hosted by the University of Maryland. Dianis Mercado (Vega Baja, Puerto Rico) earned the event's MVP honor after notching a double-double in every match of the tournament.
DEFENSE, DEFENSE, DEFENSE
The Pioneers lead the Northeast Conference in almost every defensive category, excluding blocks, in 2011. SHU opponents have tallied a hitting percentage of just .157 against the Pioneers, the top mark in the league. Sacred Heart also holds the opposition to the fewest number of kills (9.82) and assists (9.17) per set compared to its NEC counterparts.
Senior captain Jessica Colberg (Long Beach, CA) will leave Sacred Heart as undoubtedly the best libero in program history. She will have a lasting impact on the SHU record book as the owner of all four of the top single-season dig totals in school history. Colberg was named to the Northeast Conference All-Tournament Team following the Pioneers championship in 2010. In 2011, she has anchored the SHU defense with 4.13 digs per set and an incredible .967 reception percentage on 665 total attempts.
FROM USC TO SHU
Graduate transfer student Kimmee Roleder (Pasadena, CA) followed the same path as head coach Rob Machan, coming to Sacred Heart after spending time at Southern California. The former 2008 Pac-10 honorable mention has paced SHU in kills in 2011 with 3.86 kills per set. Roleder has also been solid on defense all season, averaging 3.03 digs per set. She has been consistent all season long, recording a double-double in more than half (17 of 32) of the Pioneers matches in 2011.
SHU VS. #1 LONG ISLAND
The Pioneers and the Blackbirds each picked up a five set victory against the other in 2011 on their respective home courts. In both matches, Elise Sage (Greenwood Village, CO) tallied at least ten kills and recorded the highest hitting percentage of any SHU attacker. The third set was also crucial in both clashes as each time the set was extended past 25 points with the winner eventually claiming the victory in the match.
SHU VS. #3 CENTRAL CT STATE
Sacred Heart has defeated its first round opponent by the same score, 3-1, in both meetings this season. Central Connecticut State took the Pioneers to a fifth set in the NEC semifinals last season before the Pioneers knocked out the Blue Devils to advance to the championship match. Kimmee Roleder (Pasadena, CA) put up identical numbers in both Sacred Heart victories with 17 kills and 14 digs.
SHU VS. #4 ROBERT MORRIS
SHU split its two meetings with the Colonials this season as each team triumphed on the road. Robert Morris avenged its loss to SHU in the 2010 NEC title game with a 3-1 victory in Fairfield, CT, marking the first time a NEC team had defeated the Pioneers inside the Pitt Center since 2009. Sacred Heart responded with a 3-0 rout of Robert Morris in the regular season finale, which clinched the Pioneers a share of the 2010 NEC regular season championship. Roleder was SHU's top performer against Robert Morris this season, registering 21 kills in their first meeting and 15 kills in the season finale.
SHU VS. THE NEC
The Pioneers have posted a 14-2 league record in each of the last two seasons and are 40-8 since the conference began double round robin play in 2009. During that time, 75 percent (30 of 40) of Sacred Heart's victories have come via 3-0 sweeps. SHU is 37-4 at home over the last three years, including a 21-3 mark against Northeast Conference opposition.