Terps serve up surprising encore '96 success followed with 25-0 regular season, another NCAA berth

December 05, 1997|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

COLLEGE PARK -- Many considered the Maryland volleyball team a one-season wonder.

After last year's Atlantic Coast Conference championship and record-setting season, few believed that the Terrapins could repeat that success.

Maryland wasn't ranked in the national preseason poll. The Terps were predicted to finish fourth in the conference by the ACC coaches.

Even Maryland coach Janice Kruger admitted being slightly skeptical.

The Terps answered their critics by going 25-0 to become only the eighth team in NCAA volleyball to complete an undefeated regular season.

Maryland (26-1), which was upset by Clemson in the ACC tournament semifinals, will play host to Princeton tonight in an NCAA first-round game.

"I didn't completely understand what this team had in terms of heart," Kruger said. "I was a little surprised at the start. But they all had something to prove."

The start seemed particularly surprising, considering the distracting offseason.

First, Maryland had to fill the spots of three graduating starters, including conference Player of the Year Daune Koester. That coincided with the petitioning of the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility for Elizabeth Efron because she had played for the Argentine national team.

After Efron received clearance to play, the Terps had to deal with the possibility of losing another one of their top hitters, Conya Jabari-Kitwala, who entered her second consecutive season pregnant. She had to regain her spot on the team with a series of tryouts and Maryland had its starting lineup finally set just a few weeks before the season opener.

Nevertheless, the Terps rolled through their schedule, including a victory over then-No. 14 Ohio State. Maryland also swept nearly half of its opponents, getting pushed to five games in only seven matches this year.

"I don't think we expected this but we saw the potential," said Eden Kroeger, this season's ACC Player of the Year. "A lot of us weren't heavily recruited by other big schools. The people here turned out to be a lot better than [they were] before college."

Yet the Terps still aren't considered one of the favorites for the NCAA title despite being the only Division I team to go undefeated in the regular season.

In fact, Maryland, which was mostly ranked No. 16, at times dropped in the national poll this season even though it continued to win.

"We understand where we are because there are stronger conferences out there," Efron said. "I like being the underdog. We were supposed to be No. 4 in the ACC and we won the regular season. Maybe we can go to the Final Four."

Now Maryland faces its first challenge of the season, as the Terps must rebound from their first loss of the season. Then add to that the fact that the Terps will be without Jabari-Kitwala, who was told by doctors last week to sit out the remainder of the year.

But the Terps remain focused on the NCAA tournament, especially after losing to Louisville in the second round last year. The Cardinals eventually had to forfeit that victory because of an NCAA violation.

"From now on, every game could be our last," Kroeger said. "So vTC we need to approach it like that and have fun and work hard."

(NCAA volleyball schedule, Page 10D)

Pub Date: 12/05/97

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