Team heads to NCAA playoffs

After breezing through the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, the Lady Rattler volleyball team is ready to take on its next opponents in the 2003 NCAA Tournament.

At the MEAC tournament, FAMU (26-3) defeated Hampton and Morgan State both in 3-0 matches before taking on the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore in the championship match. The Lady Hawks tried to stay within reach of the top-seeded Lady Rattlers, but FAMU proved to be too much, winning the match 30-18, 30-21, 30-16.

“We are responding very well,” said head coach Tony Trifonov. “Since winning the tournament, we played in a scrimmage against Central Florida and they played very well there, so I think we’re ready for the tournament.”

For FAMU, the second seed in its bracket, the NCAA Tournament begins Dec. 4 against Winthrop University. Winthrop (24-12) was the champion of the Big South Conference and received an automatic bid into the tournament.

“This is the first time that the NCAA is really recognizing our program,” said FAMU assistant coach Sergio Villar Gallup. “We are the No. 2 seed in our bracket and we are going to play a team that is theoretically much lower than us, so we at least have a chance to go past the first round.”

Winthrop has not played a ranked team all season, and is only making its second appearance in school history at the NCAA tournament.

“We’re very young as a group but playing from behind as we did through most of our tournament has obviously given us a boost and some momentum,” said Winthrop coach Joel McCartney.

“We have a lot of respect for Florida A&M and we know what they’re capable of so we’re going to obviously have to be at the top of our game.”

The match will be played on Georgia Tech’s campus in its basketball arena, Alexander Memorial Coliseum.

If FAMU defeats Winthrop, it will go on to play the winner of the Georgia Tech-Alabama A&M (23-5) match on Friday at 7 p.m. Last year the Lady Rattlers competed against Georgia Tech (31-3) four times but was unable to pull out a win in any of the matches. However, this year the team is ready to prove it has changed and capable of defeating the Yellow Jackets.

“Because they had no seniors, Georgia Tech is exactly the same team as last year which is an advantage for us,” Villar Gallup said. “I think that they could feel that we are the same team as last year, but we definitely are not, so that may also be an advantage for us.”

The winner of these two matches goes on to the regional final held in Honolulu, Hawaii Dec. 12-13. The other regional events are at Gainesville, Florida, Lincoln Nebraska and Long Beach, California.

Southern California, Hawaii, Florida and Pepperdine received the top four seeds in the tournament. Pairings for the brackets were determined by geographical proximity, with the exception that teams from the same conference were not paired during the first and second rounds.