Thursday, October 14, 2010

University of Albany Volleyball

Teresa Coppiellie thinks about the 2009 America East volleyball championship game every day. After winning their second consecutive regular season title by going undefeated in league play, Coppiellie and the Great Danes fell to Binghamton in the final, abruptly ending the season. That loss ended their hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in six years. “Losing that game was such a disappointment,” Coppiellie said before Tuesday’s practice at University Gym.

Even though that match was almost a year ago (Nov. 21, 2009), this UAlbany team is using that game as a driving force this season. “That added more motivation to come in strong and take every game in our conference even more seriously,” said Ballston Spa native Casey Wright. The Great Danes (3-0, 13-5) have won 11 of their last 13 matches and are in the heart of the conference schedule. UAlbany takes to the road this weekend, when they face Stony Brook on Friday (Oct. 15) and Hartford on Sunday (Oct. 17).

“Our goal is to make it big in the NCAA Tournament and to get there, we have to win the America East Conference,” Wright said. Under current coach MJ Engstrom and former coach Kelly Sheffield, UAlbany has become a power in the America East and a pretty usual customer come NCAA Tournament time. The Great Danes have reached the NCAA Tournament in 2004, ’06, ’07 and ’08. “We expect to win,” Engstrom said. “We expect to come in and get better every day.” UAlbany entered this year having won 22 consecutive America East regular season matches and have added three more this season.

“Every year, we come into conference play looking to be the top team,” Wright said. The team has stayed local during the summer and over breaks in the academic calendar to continue to work together and strive to improve. “It’s just about doing things right,” Engstrom said. “It doesn’t take any more time.

It takes a lot more effort and paying attention to detail, but that’s what makes a program great.” UAlbany has reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament once (2007), but they one day expect to challenge for a bid in the Sweet 16, year in and year out. “It’s all really about getting the right people on the team,” Wright said. “When we recruit people, we make sure they want to be part of a winning program.”

This year’s team has already had to overcome the loss of one of their best players, senior setter Brooke Stanley. Stanley tore her ACL during the first match of the year, back in August. “For the team to pull together just shows how strong of a team that we are and that we can adjust to changes,” Coppiellie said. The offense has changed. Both junior Abbey Wexel and freshman Kaley Jacobsen have stepped up in Stanley’s absence.

Engstrom says the continued success without one of the team’s top players is “encouraging”. “Our continued winning without having a setter whose been running the team for three years shows that they have learned their lessons about ‘We come out here and we win,’” Engstrom said. While they have moved on from last year’s championship game loss, it remains in the back of all of the player’s heads. “I don’t think they’ll ever forget it,” Engstrom said. “It’s a good motivating factor.” “It motivates me every day,” said Coppiellie.

Courtesy: The Record

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