By MIKEY BARNES
In the 2015 season, behind the strong play of some core players, including the then seniors, Emma Murphy and Megan Payne along with their third year head coach Matt Troy, the University of Mary Washington volleyball team earned an at-large bid for their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1991.
Entering the 2016 season, the Eagles took a hit when they lost Murphy and Payne to graduation, but were able to add depth with the addition of ten freshmen to the roster.
The Eagles entered this season looking to repeat with a tournament bid and hopes to win
the conference. “Each year we sit down as a team and the players decide on the process and outcome goals they hope to achieve for the season,” Troy said. “This year there main outcome goals were to win the CACs, get into the NCAA Tournament and advance past the first round.”
The Eagles started off the season red hot, as they won their first seven games, before falling to the then ranked No. 9 Emory College. After their first week of competition, the Eagles jumped into the national ranking for the first time in school history.
The team followed their loss to Emory by winning their next 15 games, including nine of them coming in 3-0 sweeps and just two of them going to five sets and scored victories over ranked opponents, such as No. 10 Eastern University and No. 18 Christopher Newport.
Their next loss came to No. 4 Southwestern University, which was played just an hour following their five set game against CNU. Even despite the little rest, the Eagles were still able to make it a pretty close match against the highly ranked Southwestern.
The Eagles went on to sweep their next three games, two of which were conference opponents, before falling to Marymount, in Arlington. The Eagles had one more game before the CAC tournament started, in which they defeated St. Mary’s in a sweep.
Mary Washington began their tournament play at home against that Marymount team that had just defeated them days prior and did so with vengeance, defeating them 3-0, in a blowout victory to send them to the championship.
This championship game featured No. 15 Mary Washington and No. 24 CNU, a matchup that was a lot different than the first time around, as UMW swept and did so by a large margin, clinching a Capital Athletic Conference championship and achieving one of the goals that had made early in the season and in doing so, guaranteed them a spot in the NCAA tournament, checking off another pre-season goal.
“Our goals have gone above and beyond expectations,” Troy said. With their impressive regular season and conference tournament play, coach Matthew Troy was named Capital Athletic Conference Coach of the Year and freshman Savannah Powers was named conference Rookie of the Year, Olson also received a lot of praise, being named an Honorable Mention All-American and first-team all-conference.
“The awards are a by-product of a great team. So I'm just grateful to be apart of a great program,” Olson said. “I truly have been blessed with an incredible team and that is what has enabled me to receive the awards I have gotten. It is still kind of hard to believe that I was Rookie of the Year especially even out of all the freshman just on my team, every single freshman is so good at what they do and I look at them and think they are amazing,” Powers said.
To no surprise, Troy credited the award victory to his team, saying “I am only as good as my players and I’m lucky to have some of the best, this award would not have happened without all of them and their hard work and dedication to our program.”
As Troy and the ladies waited around for the announcement of where they will be playing and who they will playing, nerves took over. Would they have to travel or were the rumors true that they could be hosting.
The news came and the brackets were released and the Mary Washington Eagles and the Ron Rosner Arena at the Anderson Center were selected to host eight teams and the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament. The Eagles were pitted against the 18- 14 Cabrini Cavaliers, in a packed house, full of UMW fans decked out in their white gear.
Mary Washington wasted no time with the Cavaliers, sweeping the series 3-0, behind the strong performances of freshman standouts Powers and Peyton Dunow, as well as junior Rachel Hendricks and sophomore Leslie Walters. With this victory, it was the first NCAA tournament victory for the UMW volleyball program since that 1991 season, in which they defeated Allegheny.
The next round, Mary Washington was faced up against the 24-7 Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets. The Eagles took on the Yellow Jackets in front of yet again, another packed house. Behind the efforts of Powers, Dunow and Olson, the Eagles scorched Randolph-Macon for a 3-0 sweep, despite the third set finishing at 30-28. With this victory, the Eagles advanced to the Sweet 16 to face the highly ranked Juniata College.
On Sunday, Nov. 13, in front of yet again, a packed Ron Rosner Arena, Mary Washington was able to grab the first set, with a 25-23 victory, after Juniata had come back from a seven-point deficit to tie it up, but a Hendricks kill, gave the Eagles the first set victory. The second set, was a little more in the favor of Mary Washington, despite an early set back and forth, they pulled away and won the set 25-22, behind a sophomore Leslie Walters kill.
The third set went a little differently, as Juniata jumped out to an early 6-0 lead. They would ultimately hold on to the lead and hold of Mary Washington and take the set 25-18, to put it at 2-1. In the fourth set, the Eagles responded and did so fast, as after facing a 2-0 deficit, went on a 5-0 tear and never looked back, as they took the set 25-20 on yet another Hendricks kill, giving the Eagles of Mary Washington a 3-1 victory.
With the victory, the Eagles earned a trip to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the Elite Eight, where they will take on Washington (Mo.) University. Olson and Dunow were named to the all- tournament team for the performances and Powers, the rookie of the year, was named most outstanding player.
“Playing at home in front of home crowds last weekend was incredible and an experience none of us will ever forget,” Olson.
Coach Troy was asked as well about the experience. “The support we received from Eagle Nation and the Fredericksburg community is only something we dreamed about before this season. I told the players a few years ago stealing a line from the movie Field of Dreams…. that if you build it, they will come and to see it come true is such an amazing feeling.”
The Eagles will be playing against Washington University on Thursday, Nov. 17 at 9 p.m. and can be watched online as they look to continue their historic season.