SETTING THE SCENE
The 2011 NEC champion Sacred Heart women's volleyball team heads to Palo Alto, CA looking to make program history as the Pioneers clash with #11 Stanford in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Pioneers have made it one step further in every postseason for the last four years and look to continue that trend with a ground breaking victory in the NCAA Tournament. SHU enters its meeting with the Cardinal on a nine game winning streak and on the heels of capturing a second straight Northeast Conference crown. Friday's match-up will be the first-ever contest between Sacred Heart and any team from the Pac-12. The trip to the west coast is a homecoming for the majority of the SHU roster as eight players hail from the Golden State. Sacred Heart is making its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance while Stanford has appeared in all 31 editions of the tournament. The winner of SHU vs. Stanford will face either Michigan or Baylor in a second round match-up Saturday night.
FILLING THE TROPHY CASE
A quartet of Pioneers garnered All-Northeast Conference honors as SHU captured a share of its second consecutive NEC regular season title. Jessica Colberg (Long Beach, CA) was tabbed the NEC Libero of the Year as well as earning a spot on the All-NEC first-team. Kimmee Roleder (Pasadena, CA) joined Colberg on the first-team after pacing the Pioneer attack all season. Both of the SHU middle blockers, Elise Sage (Greenwood Village, CO) and Johanna Ovsenek (London, Ontario), were selected to the league's second-team.
PUT AWAY THE BROOMS
The Pioneers have become one of the toughest teams in the Northeast Conference, and in the NCAA, to sweep. SHU has suffered that fate only 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.
Sacred Heart returns to the NCAA Tournament after making a solid debut in the program's first-ever appearance last season. The Pioneers drew #3 Nebraska to kick-off the 2010 event and gave the powerhouse Cornhuskers a scare, especially in the second set. SHU had the middle stanza tied at 22-22 following a Christina Bauch (Trabuco Canyon, CA) kill. However, the next SHU serve hit the top of the tape and eventually fell for an error, giving Nebraska the lead and the momentum back. Elise Sage was the most efficient SHU attacker in the loss, registering a .588 hitting percentage along with 10 kills.
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 is the 2011 NEC Libero of the Year and was named to the Northeast Conference All-Tournament Team following the Pioneers first-ever league championship in 2010. In 2011, she has anchored the SHU defense with 4.14 digs per set and an incredible .966 reception percentage on 736 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 3.94 kills per set. Roleder has also been solid on defense all season, averaging 3.20 digs per set. She will round out her final collegiate season as a member of the All-NEC first-team and the 2011 NEC Tournament MVP.
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 .162 against the Pioneers, the top mark in the league. Sacred Heart also held its league opposition to the fewest number of kills (9.98) and assists (9.30) per set compared to its NEC counterparts. The Pioneers are also the best receiving team on the circuit, surrendering less than one (0.89) service aces per set.
BIG NAMES – BIG WINS
The Pioneers have shown the ability to compete, and pick up wins, against teams from the nation's top conferences. Sacred Heart defeated Maryland in five sets earlier this season in the program's first-ever clash with an ACC opponent. SHU knocked off a pair of BIG EAST teams in 2011 with decisions over UConn and Rutgers. The Pioneers also gave Marquette, ranked in the RPI top-40, all they could handle in a back-and-forth four set loss.
Sacred Heart has recorded a barrage of double-doubles in 2011. Kimmee Roleder leads the way, tallying a double-double in more than half (18-of-34) of the Pioneers matches. Dianis Mercado has registered 12 double-doubles this season, including back-to-back outings during the NEC Tournament. SHU setter Alisa Mesa (Long Beach, CA), who is averaging 12.5 assists in November, has also chipped in five double-doubles during her freshman campaign.
COMING UP ACES
The Pioneers rank first in the Northeast Conference and 12 in the nation in service aces, dropping in 1.66 per set. Dianis Mercado paces the SHU serving with a NEC best 0.41 aces per set. Mercado also holds the 40th spot on the national leader board.
THE NEC IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
The Pioneers are trying to become just the second team in the history of the Northeast Conference to win a match in the NCAA Tournament. The NEC is 1-14 in the big dance with the only victory coming in 2005 as Long Island topped Cornell in three sets. NEC teams also competed in four NCAA Play-In games in the mid-90's, compiling a 1-3 mark. All 14 NCAA Tournament losses have come via 3-0 sweeps with five coming at the hands of Penn State.