Friday, December 5, 2008

Heartbreak, Part Two

The scene last Sunday night had all the makings of being a classic team party. Almost everyone associated with the Aggie volleyball program gathered together, balloons adorned the living room, and pieces of cake were passed around. After the finish the Aggies had to their regular season, reeling off must-win victory after must-win victory, there were plenty of reasons for happiness and anticipation as everyone awaited the NCAA Tournament selection show.

Indeed, it had been a finish for the ages for A&M. After being left for dead at the bottom of the conference standings at the mid-way mark of the schedule, the Aggies rattled off six consecutive (and resounding) victories to climb all the way to a tie for fourth in the Big 12. Surely, with a finish that high, plus a conference and overall record on the happy side of .500, A&M would be invited to college volleyball’s biggest stage.

Only the words “Texas A&M” never appeared on the screen. The Aggies had been frozen out. Again.

Last year, A&M posted a solid 21-10 (10-10 Big 12) record but was left at home. As tough as that was to stomach 12 months ago, it was equally difficult this time around.

“It was enormous (heartbreak),” said coach Laurie Corbelli, who was obviously still upset several days after the fact. “When the last bracket showed, you could tell there wasn’t an ‘A&M’ listed. Then, the sobbing started.”

Certainly, the Aggies were far from a guaranteed tourney participant, as the team’s 16-14 (11-9 Big 12) record was far from overpowering. But, the way the team played in the final seven matches showed A&M would have been a dangerous draw in bracket play.

After losing an extremely tight 3-2 decision to No. 3 Nebraska on Nov. 5, the Aggies picked up consecutive wins against Iowa State Baylor, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas Tech and Missouri. Just days before the Nebraska near-miss, A&M battled No. 16 Kansas State to five sets. The Aggies couldn’t break through in either game, and an extra point here or there would have given Corbelli a signature victory for the selection committee to consider.

As the season wound down, the players kept the faith. The win streak, they thought, would put them in a good position to claim an at large berth. The Aggies had even returned to the ‘receiving votes’ column of the AVCA coaches poll.

Instead of celebrating, however, everyone in attendance was left wondering what if.

“It was pretty bad in there,” recalled Corbelli. “I told them how proud I was of the season. It really wasn’t enough, because they didn’t want to hear any of it. All they wanted to hear was that we were going (to the tournament). I told them a couple of times not to forget how they were playing and the feeling they had when they were playing so well.”

The season-ending winning streak will certainly stick with the players and coaches over the off-season, and the second consecutive NCAA snub will provide ample motivation once the team begins gearing up for 2009. A&M has missed the postseason in each of the last three years, and the soon-to-be senior group of Sarah Ammerman, Jennifer Banse, Mary Batis, Dylan Faulkner Jola Kelner and Kristen Schevikhoven won’t want to end their careers without stepping into the tournament spotlight.

“You have to make adjustments and changes,” said Corbelli. “We’re bringing in four new players already who I feel are going to really make a huge impact. We have to figure out a way for our disappointment in ’08 to show up in September and stick around through November.”

One of those changes will be the team’s pending move from G. Rollie White Coliseum to Reed Arena. The upcoming MSC renovations will likely take over much of G. Rollie for office space, with the MSC Bookstore possibly taking over the current playing floor.

Corbelli is certain, however, that a fresh start could be a welcome sight after three trying years.

“(Moving) is going to be a really good thing for us for a while, even if it is just for a while,” said Corbelli. “We need a new look. It certainly can’t hurt us to have a new look, a new home, a new approach. If it’s a time of change, this is perfect.”

Maybe next year’s selection show party will be perfect, also.

No comments: