It didn’t come as a complete surprise, but it didn’t come without a bit of anxiety either.
The Vulcans, gathered together to watch the NCAA Selection Show, learned that they were among the eight teams that qualified for the NCAA West Regional Tournament, which will be hosted by No. 1 seed Cal State San Bernardino, December 5-7.
The Vulcans will head to southern California as the No. 7 seed, taking on No. 2 Western Washington. It will be a rematch of when the two teams squared off on Sept. 14 at the West Region Crossover Tournament in Pomona, Calif., with the Vikings claiming a hard-fought five-set win (23-25, 25-23, 23-25, 25-19, 15-10). WWU is currently ranked No. 4 nationally in the latest AVCA poll.
It’s only the sixth time in UH Hilo volleyball history that a Vulcan team has qualified for the NCAA tournament. The last time was in 2011, also at Cal State San Bernardino, when the Vulcans dropped a first round match to Sonoma State (3-1).
“I am super proud of you guys,” head coach Chris Leonard said to his team after the selection show. “This is a big step forward for our program. But we are not content to stop here. We know that we are capable of playing with anyone in the country, and our goal is to try and bring back a title.”
As expected, No. 1 ranked and undefeated CSUSB (27-0) claimed the top seed. The Vikings (26-2) are No. 2, Cal State LA is No. 3 (20-8), Alaska Anchorage is No. 4 (22-6), UC San Diego is fifth (18-8), PacWest Conference champion Azusa Pacific is No. 6 (26-4), the Vulcans are seventh (23-7) and Central Washington is No. 8 (18-10).
The Vulcans, who finished second in the PacWest with an 18-4 record, won six of their final seven matches to help secure the berth.
“This is an exciting time not only for our volleyball program but for Vulcan Athletics in general,” said UH HIlo athletic director Patrick Guillen. “Their success is our success and it should motivate our other programs to desire the experience of NCAA post-season play. I am incredibly proud of our volleyball team and the wonderful job our coaching staff has done with this program, led by Interim Head Coach Chris Leonard. I am also very grateful and appreciative of our fans and our wonderful Hilo community that has supported us this entire season. We truly do have the best fans and game atmosphere in the PacWest Conference. We very much look forward to representing UH Hilo, the State of Hawai`i and our Big Island community with great pride and aloha.”
In their volleyball history, the Vulcans won seven AIAW or NAIA national championships under Hall of Fame coach Sharon Peterson. When the school transitioned to the NCAA, Peterson led the team to regional appearances in 1994, 1995 and 1997. The Vulcans also qualified in 2009 under coach Bruce Atkinson and in 2011 with Tino Reyes as head coach (see complete list below).
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UH Hilo NCAA Postseason History
1994 (Sharon Peterson) L to Portland State (3-2)
1995 (Sharon Peterson) W vs. Regis CO (3-1), L to Nebraska-Kearney (3-2)
1997 (Sharon Peterson) L to Regis (3-2)
2009 (Bruce Atkinson) L to Alaska Anchorage (3-2)
2011 (Tino Reyes) L to Sonoma State (3-1)
NCAA D-II West Region Bracket @Cal State San Bernardino (Coussoulis Arena)
No. 8 Central (18-10) vs. No. 1 Cal State San Bernardino (27-0)
No. 4 Alaska Anchorage (22-6) vs. No. 5 UC San Diego (18-8)
No. 2 Western Washington (26-2) vs. No. 7 Hawai`i Hilo (23-7)
No. 3 Cal State LA (20-8) vs. No. 6 Azusa Pacific (26-4)