NCAA TOURNEY PREVIEW: Mariners Take On Stevens In First Round Action Friday At 3 p.m.

NCAA TOURNEY PREVIEW: Mariners Take On Stevens In First Round Action Friday At 3 p.m.

KINGS POINT, N.Y. (Nov. 9, 2017) – The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy women's volleyball team is on its way up to Potsdam, N.Y., today for the NCAA Division III Women's Championship Potsdam Regional, hosted by Clarkson University. The Mariners will face the Stevens Institute of Technology in the First Round tomorrow afternoon, Friday, Nov. 10, at 3 p.m. 

Mariners in NCAA Tournament for the First Time Since 2001 and Fourth Time in Program History
USMMA women's volleyball is in its 37th Season and the Mariners are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001 after a thrilling five-set victory over Mount St. Vincent in the Skyline Championships last Saturday. 

Friday afternoon's contest will be the first NCAA Tournament match under second-year head coach Tim Gaiser. The Mariners qualified for NCAAs in three consecutive seasons from 1999-2001 under head coaches Jim Hettenbach ('99) and Jamie Strotmeyer ('00 and '01).

How They Got Here
Merchant Marine finished the 2017 Skyline Conference regular season in a three-way tie for second place with St. Joseph's-Long Island and Mount St. Vincent. The Mariners clinched the #2 seed due to the tiebreaking advantage of sets won in the head-to-head matches with the two teams. The Mariners claimed the program's sixth conference championship and earned the Skyline's automatic bid to the NCAAs for the first time since 2001. USMMA is 17-7 overall on the season.

Stevens was the Empire 8 regular season champion for a fifth consecutive season and fought through the conference tourney to win their fifth Empire 8 Championship in three sets last Sunday against Nazareth. The Ducks return to the NCAA Tournament for a second-consecutive season, as they lost to Eastern in the 2016 NCAA Regional Final (Third Round) last year in three sets. Stevens is 26-7 overall on the season. 

Last Times They Met
Stevens and USMMA have played six times since 2002 as members of the Skyline Conference. The Ducks swept five out of the six matchups, including the last contest in 2007. Stevens also won in five sets in 2003. 

Players to Watch
For Merchant Marine, the attack goes through two-time First Team All-Skyline Conference senior outside hitter Dominique Pope (Silver Spring, Md.). Pope has posted three straight 200-plus kill seasons and leads this squad with 267 kills, 54 service aces, and 237 digs. The 2017 Skyline Conference Championship MVP enters this NCAA Tournament matchup off of back-to-back double-doubles. 

Junior outside hitter Kate Lefler (Norman, Okla.) was the second Mariner on this squad with 200-plus kills. Lefler finished second with 250 kills and provides a dangerous one-two punch with Pope. She enters the 2017 regional off of a strong conference tourney performance where she put down 26 Kills and back-to-back double-doubles in both matches. She earned Second Team All-Skyline Honors. 

Sophomore setter Kyleigh Kappas (Parker, Colo.) earned First Team-All Skyline honors leading the Mariners with 662 assists and the conference with 9.54 assists per set. She is key to providing strong offensive sets for the Mariners, posting 73 assists in the conference tourney, and has nine matches with 30-or-more assists. 

Defensively, senior Tichina Carmon (Greenville, N.C.) provides some much-needed size and has made an impact in her only season playing at Kings Point with a team-high 59 blocks. Senior defensive specialist Mackenzie Toler (Prunedale, Calif.) put it all together on the floor during the conference tourney with 27 total digs and is a lethal server with 45 service aces on the year, which is second on the team. 

Stevens boasts six All-Empire 8 selections and brings a balanced and ferocious offensive attack into this Friday's NCAA First Round Matchup at Clarkson. The Ducks roster features two 300-plus kill players in sophomores Casey King and Taleen Mitchell and two 200-plus players in senior Emily Singleton and sophomore Sarah Hain. 

King leads the attack with 369 kills and 57 service aces. The 2017 Empire 8 Co-Conference Player of the Year recorded 11 double-doubles and back-to-back double-digit kill performances in the first two rounds of last year's NCAA Regional. Mitchell bounced back this season after missing 2016 with an injury to post a second-best 309 kills and seven double-doubles this fall while hitting .284. Portland University transfer Emily Singleton posted her best season at Castle Point, finishing third with 255 kills. 

Sophomore Setter Julie Greco was a Second Team All-Empire 8 selection and a crucial part of setting up the offensive attack. Greco led the team with 929 Assists and the conference with 9.78 assists per set. Greco recorded 30-or-more assists 18 times, including a career-best 53 against Montclair State. She also posted seven double-doubles despite missing three matches this season. 

The Ducks' front row features two six-foot-plus middle blockers that can defend and throw down on offense. Sophomore Shelby Stewart led the Ducks and Empire 8 with 123 blocks after setting the program's single-season mark as a freshman in 2016. She also finished third in the Empire 8 with a .307 hitting percentage this year. 

Sophomore Sara Hain was named 2017 Empire 8 Championship MVP after hitting .571 in the two conference tourney matches. Hain finished the season third in blocks with 75. 

Defensively senior libero Sydni Horner is one of the best in the country at her position. Horner earned her third-straight Empire 8 Libero/Defensive Specialist of the Year Award, becoming the first conference player to ever achieve that mark. The Maryland native holds the program and conference career mark with 2,572 Career Digs. She led the Ducks with 553 digs this season, which was 55th in the NCAA. She is crucial to the Ducks transition game and also posted double-digit digs 31 times this year. 

Live Coverage
Live stats and a live video feed of Friday's contest will be available with links on the USMMA Women's Volleyball Schedule Page

Up Next
The winner of Friday's First Round matchup will move on to face the winner of the Ithaca-Endicott match, which will be played 12:30 p.m. on Friday. Those two winners will meet in the second round on Saturday, Nov. 11. The third and final regional round will be played on Sunday, Nov. 12. The other side of the regional bracket's First Round features hosts Clarkson against Morrisville State and Babson against Vassar. 

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Written by John Kelly Jr.