McDonough, Towson setting up for big finish

Recovered player, Tigers eye volleyball title, berth

College Volleyball

November 15, 2001|By Amy Rosewater | Amy Rosewater,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Adrienne McDonough thought she had seen it all in her four years at Towson.

During her freshman season, she and her volleyball teammates tied for fourth place and just missed a spot in the America East tournament. The next year, after a dispute with her coach, McDonough was dismissed from the team. Last year, as a junior, she returned to the squad under coach Chris Riley and promptly tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee.

Now, as her senior season is coming to a close, McDonough has finally recovered from her injury.

And she's back just in time. The Tigers (28-3, 13-1 America East) are top seeds in the conference tournament this weekend at Towson Center. If they win the tourney, they will earn their first berth in the NCAA Division I tournament. Towson started its volleyball program in 1976.

"I'm definitely glad I'm healthy and was able to practice and be along for this ride," McDonough said. "I had thought about quitting the sport, but I don't think I could live with myself if I did. It would have been tough to miss this season. That's why it would be so awesome if we did make it to the NCAAs."

Towson will face fourth-seeded Maine (16-11, 9-5) in the semifinals at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, and No. 2 Northeastern (21-10, 11-3) will play No. 3 New Hampshire (18-8, 11-3) at 4:30. The final is 1 p.m. Sunday.

Towson has beaten Maine twice this season, but the Black Bears finished the season with five consecutive victories, including one over Northeastern.

"We're preparing our kids to compete against Towson and we're preparing our kids for the final," said Maine coach Sue Medley. "Towson is a good ball-control team and they play well as a unit."

Towson's turnaround has been remarkable. In 1999, the team finished 12-20. The next year, the school hired Riley as coach, its third in three years. The Tigers started the 2000 season 4-12, but went on an 11-6 tear to finish 15-18 overall and 11-5 in the conference. The team lost to Hofstra in the conference semifinals.

Now. the Tigers are on top.

"The record is great," Riley said. "But we still have goals. We want to win the America East and make the NCAAs."

With the return of senior setter Andrea LaBlanc and middle blocker Melanie Madden and the addition of freshman Liz Goubeaux, a 6-foot-3 middle blocker, and outside hitter Sarah Miller, the team entered this season with high expectations.

McDonough, who has been one of the team's most vocal fans on the sideline, was cleared to return late this season.

Miller is ranked eighth in the nation in service aces with 84. Goubeaux leads America East in hitting percentage (.373) and blocks (138), and LaBlanc is Towson's record-holder for assists with 4,791.

"The combination of having very good seniors and some great underclassmen coming in helped us a lot," Riley said. "We've been trying to build something here and it's kind of culminating now. We want to make Towson volleyball nationally recognized."

But no one could have predicted this kind of season. The Tigers started 25-1 and are primed for a conference championship.

"I'm definitely surprised," said Goubeaux, of Lockport, N.Y. "I was expecting more of a gradual turnaround. To get this close to the NCAAs is kind of like a dream to me."

The team coasted until late in the season, when it dropped a match to Northeastern. Four days later, Delaware beat Towson in the Tigers' final regular-season home match, even though the Tigers won the first two games. Riley said the team seemed to be overconfident.

The Delaware loss didn't affect the conference standings, but it stung the Tigers."It was a killer for me," LaBlanc said. "It proved to us that we're not unstoppable. Maybe we needed a kick in the butt." The Tigers rebounded by winning their final two matches of the regular season.

"In the Delaware loss, our focus wasn't really ever there," Riley said. "But I think it made us push harder."

As focused as Riley has been about making this year's team successful, he is looking ahead. Yesterday, he announced three recruits who will join in 2002: Lauren Klau of Severna Park, April Hoffman of Nebraska and Lindsey Hardin of California.

"All three were our No. 1 choices and all of them verbally committed to us in August," Riley said.

"It's been exciting for us," he added. "We're definitely going in the right direction."

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