HARRISONBURG, Va., Nov. 4, 2012 – Having reached the Colonial Athletic Association Championship semifinals the last two seasons, the James Madison volleyball team looks to draw on that success this weekend as it travels to Towson, Md., for the conference tournament.
Sixth-seeded JMU plays at 4 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 16 in the quarterfinals against third-seeded Northeastern at the Towson Center Arena. Should the Dukes knock off the Huskies, they would advance to Saturday’s semifinal against second-seeded Delaware. The championship game is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Sunday and could include top-seeded Towson, fourth-seeded Hofstra or fifth-seeded William & Mary.
The Dukes went 2-1 in the regular season against their first two potential opponents, defeating both Delaware and Northeastern in three sets at home while falling to NU on the road, also in three sets.
Overall, JMU went 12-15 during the regular season and 5-7 in league play. Last weekend, they closed the regular season at home with matches against Northeastern and Hofstra. JMU dominated NU 3-0 and jumped out to a 1-0 lead over Hofstra before ultimately falling 3-1.
Freshman outside hitter Meghan Niski (St. Charles, Ill./St. Charles East) was named the CAA Rookie of the Week after 3.71 kills and 2.43 digs per set. She had a career-high 17 kills on .361 hitting against the Huskies, adding eight digs and a block. In four sets against the Pride, Niski collected nine kills, nine digs and two blocks.
In two appearances at the conference tournament under head coach Lauren Steinbrecher, JMU has gone 1-2, but both losses came in five-set thrillers. In 2010, the Dukes met Northeastern in the quarterfinals, falling 3-2 while getting a 25 kill, 12 dig performance from then-sophomore, now senior outside hitter Danielle Erb (Tampa, Fla./Plant). Last season, JMU swept Georgia State, 3-0, in the quarterfinals and led top-seed and tournament host Delaware 2-0, but lost the final three sets by a total of 10 points to just miss advancing.
Dating back to 1984, Madison is 33-22 all-time at the CAA Championship, including winning the conference title three times. The team won the very first CAA Championship in 1984 under coach Deb Tyson and also won back-to-back titles in 1999 and 2000 under coaches Chris Beerman and Disa Garner. In addition to three titles, the Dukes have finished as the CAA runner-up seven times.
The 2012 version of the Dukes are looking to make their first trip back to the title game since losing a five-set thriller to George Mason in 2002.
The Huskies finished the regular season with a 20-6 overall record and a 9-3 mark in CAA play. They tied with Delaware for the second-best record in the league, but lost out on a quarterfinal bye due to a tiebreaker. NU has won three of its last four matches with the lone loss coming to JMU in Harrisonburg last weekend. On the season, Northeastern is 5-1 in neutral site matches and 9-6 away from home.
Junior outside hitter Kelly Bacon ranks tops on the team in kills with 326 and 3.58 per set. She is hitting .243 on the season and has added 247 digs and 37 blocks. Sophomore Jillian Briner is hitting .284 with 212 kills, 516 assists, 178 digs, 50 blocks and 29 aces. Two other players are averaging more than two kills per set in middle blocker Nichole Kurz and outside hitter Nichole Bishop. Kurz is averaging 2.04 kills per set with Bishop contributing 2.13 kills per set.
Joining Briner at the setter position is Ina Kamenova. She leads the team in assists with 6.32 per set. Libero Natalia Skiba leads the CAA in digs with 500, averaging 5.49 per set and is tops on the team in aces with 30.
Head coach Ken Nichols is in his 13th season with Northeastern. He owns a 242-151 record with the team. In 16 years as a head coach, Nichols is 295-191 overall.
The Dukes and Huskies have met 20 times dating back to 1984 with NU holding a slight 11-10 edge in the series. Northeastern had won three straight meetings until last weekend’s win by the Dukes. Since Steinbrecher took over in 2010, JMU is 3-3 against NU with an aggregate score of 13-12 in Madison’s favor. The Huskies lead the series 4-3 when played on a neutral site.
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