Volleyball Earns Return Trip to Hawaii for NCAA Tournament

Volleyball Earns Return Trip to Hawaii for NCAA Tournament

The University of San Diego women’s volleyball team began its 2019 season on August 30 in Hawaii and against nonconference tournament host Hawaii Rainbow Wahine. Hawaii prevailed in a five-set match.

Fast forward a few months to Sunday night and the 2019 West Coast Conference champions were on campus, glued to the large screen for the ESPNU Selection Show to learn where they would begin play in the 64-team NCAA Tournament field.

The Toreros learned they’ll leave Wednesday for a return trip to Hawaii where they’ll be in a four-team regional hosted by the Rainbow Wahine along with Northern Colorado and USD’s first-round opponent, Washington State. Both matches, USD-Washington State and Hawaii-Northern Colorado, are on Friday, Dec. 6, at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively, local time (6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Pacific). Winners advance to Saturday’s second-round match at 7 p.m. (9 p.m. Pacific).

“This will be all business … with some warm water,” said veteran USD head coach Jen Petrie of her 25-4 team as it prepares to go back to where the season began.

“I’m super excited with our draw. I think we were very confident when we were there at the end of August and even more confident now," she said. "I look back on what we did in that opening match, going five, and we’re a completely different team. This will be all business.”

It’s tempting to think about USD playing Hawaii, which is seeded 12th among 16 national seeds each hosting an opening weekend NCAA regional, but Petrie and the Toreros must first defeat Washington State (23-9, fifth in Pac-12 Conference). It’s a different year, for sure. USD’s annual entry in the NCAA Tournament has routinely meant driving to Los Angeles to play in a regional hosted by UCLA or USC. Both teams made the tournament, but neither is a seeded team.

Petrie came in thinking USD’s destination would be to one of four places — Stanford, the No. 3 seed and Pac-12 champion; Washington, the No. 8 seed and Pac-12 runner-up; Texas, the No. 2 seed and co-Big 12 Conference champion; or Hawaii, the Big West Conference champion.

“We thought there was strong potential for Hawaii and that those four would be the most reasonable, especially when they were spreading the west coast teams out,” Petrie said.

The Toreros are making their 10th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, 18th in 19 years and 22nd in 24 years. The program has reached the Sweet 16 four times, including last season.

Despite USD earning its 11th overall WCC title and first outright WCC championship since 2013, which included a season sweep of BYU, the latter received the 14th seed and is hosting a regional.

Nonetheless, the Toreros, who returned to practice on Nov. 30, will be ready for Washington State. These Cougars beat Washington this season, a victory Petrie thinks “solidified” the team’s spot in the tournament. Playing in a competitive Pac-12 Conference — USD faced Washington (lost in four sets in Hawaii) and USC (won in five) — bodes well for a solid first-round match.

Returning to Hawaii where USD went 1-2 in the Hawaiian Airlines Rainbow Wahine Classic offers a second chance for a team that’s got some seniors, but also has young players who’ve emerged over the course of the season.

“We were really challenged in our preseason this year. We started out rough in our first couple of matches playing against some of the best (Hawaii, Washington and at home against Nebraska). That seemed to propel us forward, showing us where we were weak, what we needed to work on and these girls have been so determined. I’ve been impressed with the way they battled, mentally, through that challenge of being under .500 and wondering what’s going to happen to this team to then finishing as strong as they did.”

USD had a 13-match win streak earlier in the year and is currently on a nine-match streak heading into the postseason.

“It was great to see our team come through in conference like that (17-1 record). And now, when I look back at our losses in preseason, I couldn’t be prouder of how we played in those, going five with both Hawaii and Nebraska, we continued on as a team eager to compete.”

The time is now for standouts like senior setter Anna Newsome and senior middle blocker Megan Jacobsen and the postseason will help the rising talent base grow, including freshman Grace Frohling, redshirt freshman Lauren Turner, sophomore Katie Lukes, junior Roxie Wiblin.

“It’s been a memorable season so far,” said Petrie, who notched her 400th career win earlier in the year. “And we’re not done.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

For more coverage of the USD women's volleyball team and its upcoming NCAA Tournament appearance, please visit the USD Athletics website and volleyball's team site.

The USD women's volleyball team travels to Hawaii this week to play in the NCAA Tournament. The opening match is Friday against Washington State.The USD women's volleyball team travels to Hawaii this week to play in the NCAA Tournament. The opening match is Friday against Washington State.

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