Webster University will travel to Washington University to take on the Bears in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Nov. 11 at 8 p.m.
The Gorloks (19-12 overall) lost to the Bears (32-1 overall) 3-0 (25-12, 25-13, 25-21) in an Oct. 26 regular-season match at WashU earlier this year. The Gorloks have seen the style of defense WashU plays, so they know how to prepare.
But WashU, ranked third in the country, possesses one of the nation’s best defenders in junior defensive specialist Kelly Pang. Pang was named the national Newcomer of the Year in 2009.
“She is just phenomenal,” Webster coach Merry Graf said. “She is a great defender. It’s going to be one of those things about being smart, trying to keep it away from her and find the holes and weak spots in their defense.”
Webster settled down by the third set in their previous meeting against WashU, losing by only four points.
“When we played them the last time, we were a little starstruck the first couple of games,” Graf said. “In game three we played much more like ourselves. The fact that we were over there and played them a couple weeks ago hopefully will relax our players.”
Graf has three members on her coaching staff, Ashley Scanio, Megan Floarke and Abby Williams, who played on Webster teams that have taken WashU to fourth and fifth sets. Graf said those coaches will get the team in the right mindset before heading into the match.
“We had match point on them when all three of my coaches were on the team,” Graf said. “I’m sure they’ll talk to the girls about believing they can do it. That’s step one. You have to believe you can beat a quality team like that.”
Coming off a big win against Greenville in the SLIAC championship should give the team momentum going into the NCAA tournament.
“Us playing so sharp against Greenville gives us much more confidence that we can do well against WashU,” freshman outside hitter Jenny Howard said. “We’re going to give WashU a big game and a run for their money, especially in our underdog role.”
Graf knows WashU is the heavy favorite, but the Gorloks are accepting their role as the underdogs heading into the match.
“It’s going to be a challenge and we’re clearly the underdogs,” Graf said. “That’ll be our strategy — to embrace our role as the underdog and see if we can create some havoc.”