UNH gears up to face No. 3 Washington in tournament
By Josh Sullivan, Sports Editor
The University of New Hampshire volleyball team sat in the Skybox above the ice at the Whittemore Center on Sunday night, gathered around a television that was playing a college basketball game between Rhode Island and Georgia Tech. Not a single person in the room cared about the game.
“This better not go to overtime,” someone said.
That’s because the team patiently awaited to hear what their fate would be for the upcoming NCAA tournament. Several minutes into the selection show, Jill Hirschinger’s squad learned that, come Friday, they’ll be in Seattle to take on the No. 3 ranked University of Washington Huskies.
UNH secured their spot in the tournament last Saturday when they defeated the University of Albany 3 sets to 1 for their second straight America East conference championship.
The Wildcats find themselves in a situation similar to last year when they took on the No. 6 University of Southern California. USC defeated them in three straight sets to advance all the way to the regional semifinals before losing to No. 3 ranked Washington. But the ‘Cats are a year older and a year wiser, and that experience can only benefit them.
“Before we were just happy to be there, but now we can focus a little bit, we know what it is and we know what happens,” Hirschinger said. “That’s just going to help us.”
“We have an older team that has experience,” senior setter Taylor Dunklau said. “I think going into a big crowd and playing a big team that’s nationally ranked — having that confidence will be good for us.”
UNH has its hands full with the Huskies who can boast that they’re the only team in the country to beat No. 1 ranked Stanford this season, with a win over the Cardinal last Wednesday in four sets.
“We’re playing one of the top four teams in the country.We saw them last year in the semi-finals and they’re going to be big, they’re going to be athletic,” Hirschinger said. “For us, it’s a thrill to be playing in December.”
UNH’s high tempo style of play has worked for them so far this year, but they’ll have to take a different approach against Washington and the team’s nine players who are over six feet tall.
“We’re going to have to change up our game plan,” Dunklau said. “We’re playing a bigger team and we’re going to have to focus on tooling the block and playing a little bit more aggressive at the net.”
The Wildcats will keep riding the play of young gun Demi Muses, who won the America East tournaments Most Outstanding Player award, and junior Abby Brinkman, who had 13 kills against Albany. Dunklau has been the anchor of the team all year, and set her way to 48 assists in the game against Albany.
Washington head coach Jim McLaughlin was interviewed on ESPN during the selection show, and New Hampshire wasn’t even mention by the show hosts Maria Taylor and Matt Schick until the very end of the interview. Taylor went as far as saying she was ready to “pencil the Huskies in” to her national semifinals bracket. It’s clear that there isn’t much expected out of the Wildcats nationally, but the team is just fine with that.
“Oh, I love being the underdog,” Dunklau said. “It’s my favorite place to be.”