Morgan State moves into new territory NCAA Div. I tourney trip is the first for school

December 04, 1997|By Brant James | Brant James,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Its photograph will forever sit in a prized spot in a trophy case at Morgan State, one that has yearned for new occupants for decades.

The team was the first, and for who knows how long, the only.

But for now Morgan State's volleyball team, which two weeks ago became the first Golden Bears team ever to qualify for any kind of NCAA Division I tournament -- and the first predominantly black school to reach this tournament -- is too busy living in the moment to consider its significance.

"I don't think I've had a chance to let it all sink in," coach Ramona Riley-Bozier said. "Right now, we're looking at it as another match and the reality hasn't kicked in."

The Bears might have to consider what they've done if they win their first-round match scheduled for 9: 30 p.m. tomorrow on Southern California's campus in Los Angeles. Morgan State, slotted last in the 14-team Pacific Region, meets the eighth-ranked and host Trojans, 14-time tourney participants.

Morgan State, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champ, advanced to the 56-team event by beating Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Grambling, 3-0, marking the first time a MEAC school had ever won a Division I play-in game. The win gave Morgan its first postseason participant since 1978, when the football team lost in the first round of the Division II playoffs.

Morgan, currently 25-9 and a winner of 14 consecutive matches, reached the play-in at Grambling by defeating Florida A&M, which had beaten it in the conference finals the last two seasons.

"It was our goal to win regardless," said junior middle back Tiffany Pickens, a second-team All-MEAC selection. "But beating FAMU made it a little more personal."

Homeless with Hill Fieldhouse undergoing major renovations, the Bears have been the host of matches at Loyola, UMBC, Notre Dame, and Goucher. They held their 4: 55 a.m. practices at Lake Clifton High.

"We knew the situation this summer," said Riley-Bozier, who just won her third straight MEAC Coach of the Year award. "So I sent out letters to all the players and told them to let me have the headaches, and for them just to focus on volleyball. Just visualize playing in nationals."

Riley-Bozier said she knew in August her team had the ability to reach the NCAA tournament. But, she admits, it was after she took her players' advice and tempered her often-terse court demeanor, the team began to realize its potential.

"We told the coach things were happening that were holding up the progress of the team," said co-captain Jakaria Stewart, a first-team All-MEAC outside hitter. "We told her we could do a lot more things positive, and she listened."

Win or lose against USC, Riley-Bozier and the players assert, the season will be a success.

"One match doesn't make this season," Pickens said. "We'll see this season as where it all started. We set the standard, now we have expectations."

Pub Date: 12/04/97

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