With only four games left to play in the regular season, East Carolina University’s volleyball team has a chance to earn its fourth 20-win season in program history against the University of Houston tomorrow at 8 p.m.
With 29 regular season games in the rearview mirror for the Pirates, they have already exceeded the expectations of fellow American Athletic Conference coaches by winning 19 games, including 10 in the AAC.
ECU (19-10, 10-6 AAC) will get a chance to hit 20-wins in its next matchup against the Houston Cougars (10-14, 6-10 AAC) tomorrow. The Pirates, who would also clinch an above .500 record in the AAC with a win, already have clinched an above .500 season and also defeated the Cougars at home on Oct. 15 in four sets.
With just three previous 20-win seasons in school history, and none since 2005, ECU head coach Julie Torbett says reaching 20-wins with a win over Houston would be huge for her program.
“It would be amazing, I mean 20 wins in a volleyball season is a big bench mark,” Torbett said. “It would be another historical win for a historical season. Definitely excited about it, we have got four opportunities to do it, so I’d like to do it on the first chance, which is Houston.”
While the Cougars are in the middle of the pack when it comes to AAC standings, they have exceeded the expectations of AAC coaches this season, just like the Pirates. ECU has proved its doubters wrong this season, currently sitting at fourth in the AAC after being ranked 11th out of 12 teams in the AAC preseason coaches poll. The only team it ranked higher than was Houston, which has proved to be a competitive team, currently sitting in eighth in the conference.
Torbett acknowledged that, like her team, Houston has somewhat defied expectations, and proven themselves this season to be a worthy opponent.
“They have everything that they have to prove as well, just like us,” Torbett said. “It probably will be a battle, you know, we beat them the time before (in Minges Coliseum) in four, so I’m sure that that’s on their mind as well to split that competition between us. But we are going to go in, and go after them for sure on their court.”
A game on the road in Houston is not guaranteed by any means. Houston is above .500 at home this season (7-5), but ECU is also above .500 on the road (6-4). One of these stat lines will have to give, in what will likely be a very close matchup that has the potential to go five full sets.
In their first matchup against Houston on Oct. 15, the Pirates started off slow, dropping the first set 25-23, but the Pirates were able to regroup, however, by winning the final three sets of the game 25-22, 25-18, 25-23.
The Pirates saw contributions from multiple players in the last matchup, with seniors Lael Ceriani and Natalie Montini, and freshmen Bri Wood and Shelby Martin, as all four chipped in 11 kills apiece.
Martin also added a then career-high 41 assists from the setter position to give her a double-double. Martin said with such a historically significant game on the line, she believes her team will be able to come out and fight like they did in the previous matchup.
“This is definitely a big game for us,” Martin said. “This game signifies 20 wins, so we got there, we are making history right now.”
ECU will look to contain Houston senior outside hitter Brianna Lynch, who poured in 11 kills against the Pirates in their last matchup. Lynch has performed well this season, as she is second on the Houston roster in kills with 215. ECU will also look to stop Houston sophomore outside hitter Megan Duncan, who is 13th in the AAC in kills per set at 2.83, and first on the Houston roster in total kills with 232.
ECU will look to pull off the season sweep over Houston, which would be its fourth series sweep of the season, and third over an AAC opponent, as it has swept out of conference opponent North Carolina Central University, and AAC opponents University of South Florida and Memphis University already this year.