Members of the MTSU volleyball team celebrate after beating South Alabama in a Nov. 2, 2012, matchup in Mobile, Ala. (Photo courtesy of MTSU Athletics)
This season the Blue Raider volleyball has been through it all: losing several key players to season-ending injuries, a long losing streak, and bringing along a talented but young group of newcomers.
Even with a troubled season, MTSU finished the season strong and earned a spot in this week’s Sun Belt Conference Volleyball Tournament at Bowling Green, Ky. It opens play today with the No. 6 seed Blue Raiders facing the No. 3 seed North Texas in the opening round at 2:30 p.m.
The Blue Raiders come into the postseason splitting its last 10 matches, winning five and losing five inside the league after enduring an 11-match losing streak during the month of September.
Now, MTSU heads into the SBC playoffs with a final regular season record of 10-22, 7-8.
Today, the Blue Raiders are looking for a measure of revenge against the Mean Green, after North Texas defeated MTSU three matches to none on Oct. 7.
Long-time head coach Matt Peck believes the team is ready to go for another SBC title.
“I think our team is very excited about the upcoming tournament,” Peck said before heading to Bowling Green. “We like our first round draw, even through we lost at UNT earlier this year, UNT is a very different team on the road. They have losses to both Florida International and South Alabama on the road, teams we beat on the road.”
The Blue Raiders have been led by a freshman foursome: former Riverdale star Chelsea Ross, Tyler Richardson, Shelby Anderton and Bri McCombs.
All four players are ranked in the top 10 in the conference standings for kills, hitting percentage, blocks, assists and digs.
Ross is second in the league in kills averaging 4.09 per set. Richardson is eighth in hitting percentage (.312 per set) and second in blocks with 1.24 per set; Anderson is seventh in assists with 8.74 per set, and McCombs is eighth in digs with 3.82 per set.
All of the statistics were taken from all of the matches this season.
During Peck’s time at the helm of the Blue Raiders program, he has a 20-8 record in the SBC tournament with a league best winning percentage of .714.
That success has earned them four out of the last six conference titles.
Over the past few years, MTSU has come in as one of the favorites. But this year, the Blue Raiders come in as one of the underdogs.
The team likes being in that role this week.
“We will have to have stellar matches from three or four players in order to win the title this year, and we are capable of doing that,” Peck said. “We are fine with being under the radar this tournament. A couple of coaches told me they would not be at all surprised to see MTSU in the finals. As Western Kentucky is in the other bracket, I think we stand as good a chance as anyone.”
This year’s SBC tournament is made up of the top eight teams in the league, and it will be played in a single elimination format.
If the Blue Raiders win today, they will face the winner of the Troy and Louisiana-Lafayette match at 4 p.m. tomorrow in the semifinals.
While on the other side of the bracket the host, Western Kentucky University, comes in as the No. 1 seed after finishing the regular season ranked in the Top 25 and a record of (29-3, 15-0) and will face FIU in its first match.
That winner will face the victor of the Arkansas-Little Rock and Arkansas State in the other semifinal also tomorrow.
The two semifinal winners will meet in the championship of the SBC tournament at 1 p.m. Saturday.
The SBC champion will earn an automatic berth in the upcoming Women’s NCAA Volleyball Tournament.
All matches will be played inside the E.A. Diddle Arena on the WKU campus and can be seen for free on www.sunbeltsports.org.