SAN ANTONIO (Nov. 17, 2016) – The Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) Saints volleyball team is making its second appearance in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Championship Tournament in two years This time around, the university is proud to be hosting the opening round of the tournament – the first time ever. The match between the Saints and the College of the Ozarks will take place on Saturday, Nov. 19, at 1 p.m. The game will be free and open to the public.
In their first year at nationals, the Saints fell to Evangel in five sets, so if they want to get past the opening round this year, the 25-6 Saints will have to go through the 28-13 Lady Bobcats.
Saturday's match looks to be an intriguing one between teams with similar strengths. Neither team boasts imposing height, instead relying on fundamental, mistake-free volleyball to stay in system and tease out opportunities from opponents.
The Lady Bobcats (28-13) led the nation in total digs (3,376) and digs per game (23.77), with freshman defensive specialist Haley Stallings leading the NAIA in total digs (1,035) and digs per game (7.29).
"The first thing that we noticed is how balanced they are offensively. They have the ability to have attackers at each pin be terminal in every rotation and get key contributions from the middle," Head Coach Jeremiah Tiffin said. "They are also very low error, lower than any team we've faced. They keep the ball in play and force their opponents into mistakes.
"They are a well-coached team and will be a tough opponent on Saturday."
The Lady Bobcats keep the ball in play and utilize a balanced attack with two players (Danielle Curnes and Brandy Glessner) averaging 2.1 kills per set, and two players (Alex Spears and Logan Allen) averaging 2.2 kills per set. They are most efficient in the middle, where Allen's hitting percentage is .268.
By contrast, the Saints feature two powerful hitters on the outside with Kendall Groff (SR/Helotes, Texas) (3.3 kills per set with a .249 hitting percentage) and Leilani Smith (SR/Hilo, Hawaii) (2.8 kills per set with a .279 hitting percentage). The two powerful hitting lefties will look to attack away from Hastings, picking their spots to try and keep the Lady Bobcats out of system and their 25th ranked passing attacks (12.19 assists per game).
Anyssa Rivera (FR/El Paso, Texas) came on strong over the second half of her first year, averaging two kills per set in conference play. Behind Groff, Smith and Rivera, Raven Swain (JR/Pflugerville, Texas) provides a strong attack from the back line, averaging two kills per set on the season. Swain's ability to shift into several roles within one rally gives the Saints a strong presence on the court at all times. When Brittany Martinez (SR/El Paso, Texas) moved over to libero midway through the season, averaging 3.7 digs per set in conference play (and 3.5 overall), she and Swain (three digs per set in conference play, 2.5 overall) displayed great chemistry. In RRAC play, the Saints held opponents to a .027 hitting percentage and .128 overall.
The Saints will look to take advantage of a serving game that ranked 23rd in the nation in aces per game (.520) with Audrey Contreras (SR/McAllen, Texas) leading the team with an OLLU single-season record 54 aces (29th in the nation). OLLU is good at placing its serves with tempo and should look to keep the ball away from Hastings to keep the Lady Bobcats out of system and open up opportunities for its hitters before the Lady Bobcats can transition back into defensive formation.
All season long, the Saints have been devastating against bigger teams and struggled with those built more like themselves, and these two teams are similar stylistically—with the Saints offering more pop on their attacks and the Lady Bobcats a little cleaner on defense. The Saints have not lost at home since October 2014, and hope the familiarity of Mabee Gymnasium can push them to places they've never been.
The winner of this match will advance to the national championship final site in Sioux City, Iowa. Action inside the Tyson Events Center starts with three days of pool play from Nov. 29 – Dec. 1. The top two teams in each pool will advance to the elimination bracket on Dec. 2, and the national champion will be crowned Dec. 3 with first-serve set for 7 p.m. ESPN3.
Our Lady of the Lake University is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2016-2017 as a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. The University began competing in the NAIA in men's soccer and volleyball in 2007. A year later, they added women's soccer, golf and tennis. In 2009, the Saints began competing in cross-country, softball and basketball. In 2014, OLLU added two more sports — baseball and track and field. There are now 13 intercollegiate athletic teams at OLLU. All athletic alumni and up to two family members will receive free admission to basketball and volleyball games throughout the season. Baseball is not included in this special offer. All other home games are free and open to the public