Stepping onto a higher court

From the first practice of the 2000 season, members of the GW volleyball team knew something special was happening, but they just couldn’t quite put their finger on it. Maybe it was the fabulous freshmen recruiting class comprised of six talented newcomers. That was part of it, but there was something more. Perhaps it was the great senior leadership with the 2000 squad starting five returning seniors from last year’s 16-11 season. That’s a big part of it too, but there was something else.

There was the growth in the team’s size this year, allowing for a deep practice squad, a vital component that the Colonials missed last year. There was the tough schedule and challenging tournaments at the beginning of the season that the Colonials played in with tremendous success. And then there was the team unifying to overcome the death of head coach Yvette Moorehead.

We have a lot of talent this year, but it is something else inside of us, senior tri-captain Jill Levey said. We had some extra help this year that started in each of our hearts, and carried over into our play.

These women were right – this season is a special one – and whatever it is inside each player has grown stronger, carrying over onto the court and making GW the dominant Atlantic 10 force. This season is special because players’ emotions and unparalleled determination have carried the Colonials back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995.

The Colonials will battle the University of South Carolina in Lincoln, Neb., in the first round Friday. A victory would likely set up a second-round match with top-seeded Nebraska – a team GW lost to in the second round of the NCAA’s in 1994.

The Colonials travel to Nebraska ranked 32 out of the tourney’s 64 teams. By winning the A-10 tourney two weekends ago, the Colonials automatically qualified for one of the 31 slots reserved for conference champions.

GW is focused on beating South Carolina, a team the Colonials have met four times, splitting with two wins apiece, most recently in 1990 when GW won in three games. Even though South Carolina is a strong team from a tough Atlantic Coast Conference, GW coach Jo Coronel said the Colonials hold a positive outlook.

They aren’t as athletic as some teams, but they are tall and strong, Coronel said. We match up well and they are a team we can beat.

South Carolina has a similar playing style to the University of Florida, a team that both GW and South Carolina lost to this year, leading Coronel to believe his team is capable of winning its fourth NCAA first-round match in the 1990s.

To beat South Carolina we just have to play our game and be focused and consistent, Levey said.

But the long break between A-10’s and the NCAA Tournament could also be seen as GW’s biggest weakness.

We have lost a little of our rhythm and people are stale, but once we get out there on the court we will get it back, Coronel said.

GW heads to Nebraska with a positive outlook, knowing it has something special that the other 63 teams don’t have: a bond that was born before the first day of practice that has grown stronger with every obstacle this team has overcome.

That feeling, that something special, that extra touch, has been with GW throughout its outstanding 25-5 season. It was with the team members when they achieved the goal they set for themselves to be A-10 champions, and it will be one of their biggest strengths as they face the best teams in college volleyball this weekend. This team knew it was special from the beginning, and is proving itself right as it heads to the NCAA’s with focus, confidence, and strength inspired by the dedication of this year’s season to Moorehead.

It brought together our focus and our team for one common goal, and it still feels like she’s out there with us, Levey said.

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