Only 64 teams remain in the 2013 NCAA Div. II volleyball season, and the Truman Bulldogs will look to survive and advance this Thursday through Saturday in the eight-team Midwest regional, hosted by Grand Valley (Mich.) State University in Allendale, Michigan.
The Bulldogs â?? who advanced to the Great Lakes Valley Conference championship match â?? carry a 23-11 record into the national tournament, where they will be the No. 8 seed out of the Midwest region.
The team's first challenge will be its tallest of the weekend, as Truman is slated to take on top-seeded Grand Valley State at 7:30 pm (EDT) on Thursday, Dec. 5 on the Lakers' home court â?? the GVSU Fieldhouse.
This marks the 14th trip to the NCAA tournament in program history, including the fourth in five seasons under the direction of head coach Ben Briney.
The Bulldogs â?? who have amassed a 23-13 overall record in the postseason â?? will look to snap a four-match NCAA losing streak that dates back to the 2008 national semifinals.
The Bulldogs come into the NCAA tournament having won five of its last seven contests, snapping out of a late-October/early-November slump that saw the squad post just a 2-4 mark during a six-match stretch.
On the season, Truman is hitting .214 as a team with 13.1 kills per set, while opponents check in at just .177 with 12.5 kills per frame.
The Bulldogs have also dealt 181 aces (1.4/set) and are averaging 16.4 digs and 2.1 blocks per set.
First-team all-GLVC junior OH Allie Brak leads the Bulldogs in points per set at 4.13, followed closely by first-team all-GLVC sophomore MH Ali Patterson at 3.33 pts/set and fellow sophomore OPP Abby Heise at 3.16 pts/set.
Brak has totaled 482 kills on the season â?? moving into the program's all-time top-10 with 1,201 for her career â?? while Patterson used three big matches at the GLVC tournament to reach 320 total kills in 2013.
Patterson (132) and Heise (103) are the team's top blockers on the season, followed closely by redshirt sophomore MH Emilee Walters' 96.
Honorable mention all-GLVC junior setter Meghan Zimmerman has posted 1,388 assists (10.60/set) on the season to go alongside 338 digs (2.58/set), while fellow junior libero Abby Moser leads all Bulldogs with 542 digs (4.30/set).
Moser has been on fire as of late, averaging 5.58 digs/set in the team's last eight matches dating back to Nov. 9.
Ben Briney is in his fifth season as the program's head coach and has a career record of 119-53 (.692).
Four programs from each the GLVC and the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference were selected for the eight-team Midwest regional, with all four first-round matches pitting the conferences against each other on Thursday afternoon/evening.
Kicking the day off is No. 3 Northwood (Mich.) against No. 6 Indianapolis at noon, followed by the other match on the lower half of the bracket â?? No. 2 Ferris (Mich.) State and No. 7 Lewis (Ill.) at 2:30 p.m. No. 4 Ashland (Ohio) takes on No. 5 Southern Indiana at 5 p.m. prior to the 7:30 p.m. showdown between Truman and GVSU.
The quarterfinal winners will advance to play at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6, with the championship match set for 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 7.
Truman and GVSU have met once before in the NCAA tournament, with the Bulldogs downing the Lakers 3-1 in a 2002 national semifinal match in Canyon, Texas.
The Bulldogs are a combined 2-6 against the regional field, with wins coming against USI and Lewis and losses against UIndy (2), Lewis, Ashland, USI, and GVSU.
Overall, Truman will be one of the most-tested teams in the field, having played 17 of its 34 matches (50%) against teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs went 7-10 in those matches.
Grand Valley Scouting Report:
Winners of 19 straight dating back to an Oct. 1 five-set loss at Ferris State, the Lakers check into the NCAA tournament at 29-3 overall.
The squad most recently captured the GLIAC championship, sweeping Saginaw Valley in the quarterfinals before defeating Northwood in four sets and Ashland in five sets on Nov. 23-24 in Allendale.
GVSU is 14-2 at home this season, with both losses coming during the opening weekend of play at the tournament Truman attended and went 3-1 (the teams did not play each other).
The Lakers are hitting .228 as a team on the season and allowing just a .126 mark, while serving 181 aces and averaging 17.2 digs and 2.4 blocks per set.
The Lakers rely heavily on their two outside hitters, as junior Abby Aiken â?? the GLIAC player of the year â?? and sophomore Betsy Ronda have combined to average 6.3 kills and 6.0 digs per set.
The tandem are also the team's top two servers, dealing a combined 79 aces this season. Kaleigh Lound is the team's top blocker at 1.17/set, while Christina Canepa is averaging a team-best 4.07 digs/set.
Earlier this season, the Lakers earned a 3-1 victory on Oct. 25 in Aurora, Ill., as part of the GLVC/GLIAC crossover tournament.
Brak, Patterson and Heise combined for 41 of Truman's 55 kills, while Ronda, Aiken and Lound made up 42 of GVSU's 57 kills.
It was also the only time this season that the Bulldogs failed to record a service ace.
Deanne Scanlon is in her 19th season at the helm of the GVSU program, having posted a career record of 497-146 at the school.
Courtesy Truman State University