COLLEGE PARK -- When Janice Kruger left Nebraska for the Maryland volleyball coaching job in February of 1988, it was her good fortune that Colleen Hurley followed her seven months later.
All Hurley did this fall in her second year on the team was lead Maryland to its first Atlantic Coast Conference volleyball championship and earn acclaim as ACC Player of the Year.
As ACC champions, the Terps automatically qualified for the 32-team field that will compete in the NCAA Division I tournament starting tomorrow. Maryland will stage the Final Four Dec. 13 and 15 at Cole Field House, marking the first time the event has been held on the East Coast.
Kruger's Terps may be ousted by that time, but that will not dilute their accomplishments. They dethroned ACC power North Carolina, after all, and made the NCAA tournament for the first time. But advancing won't be easy for the Terps, who face seventh-ranked Texas (29-3) in Austin on Friday. The Longhorns are seeded first in the South Region, and Maryland (22-11) is the region's eighth seed.
Kruger is happy but realistic about the bid. "Obviously I am excited about our team being in the NCAA tournament for the first time," she said. "As for who we play, I think we would be an underdog against any other team in the field, so playing Texas at Texas just gives us the opportunity to play one of the best teams in the tournament right off the bat."
Kruger, ACC Coach of the Year, recorded her 400th career victory Oct. 17 against George Washington. She coached at Nebraska-Omaha for nine years, taking the school to the Division II semifinals four times. She was twice Division II Coach of the Year.
"I had done what I could do there and was ready to try a major university," Kruger said last week at a news conference attended by New Mexico coach Laurel Kessel, Penn State's Russ Rose and Nebraska's Terry Pettit. "At the same time, I felt I had enough energy to help promote volleyball on the East Coast."
At Nebraska-Omaha, Kruger's ace was Hurley. The 5-foot-11 hitter, now a Maryland junior, was ready for a move herself.
"I was living at home and I wanted to experience the college atmosphere," Hurley said. "I wanted to help build a program and I knew the coach. It was a perfect opportunity."
Volleyball, East Coast style, lags well behind that on the West Coast. Long Beach State won the NCAA title last year, marking the eighth time in nine years it has been taken by a West Coast team.
"The East Coast is starting to wake up and recognize a great sport," Kruger said. "It's improving here. More kids are getting into it and more older people are coaching.
"I hope we can promote growth in high schools and on the beaches. Kids need role models and we want to be involved in that."
Assistant athletic director Gothard Lane has set a goal of breaking the two-day tournament attendance record of 16,000 established at the University of Minnesota in 1988.
A ticket plan for the semifinals (Dec. 13, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m.) and final (Dec. 15, 7:30) is $20. For ticket information, call 1-800-462-8377.