Terps seek place in Sweet 16, UM history

Team will play host to AU in NCAA 1st round tonight

College Volleyball

December 05, 2003|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

Aimee Huddleston has spent the past three months trying to convince her Maryland volleyball teammates that they are a team of destiny.

"We want to make history," the fiery junior setter said as the unseeded Terps prepared for their first-round NCAA tournament match at 7:30 tonight against American University at Comcast Center.

"We want to be the first Maryland volleyball team to go to the Sweet 16," said Huddleston, who averages 12.59 assists a game, second best in the Atlantic Coast Conference. "Our whole team sat down and made that our new goal after we won the ACC tournament."

Coach Janice Kruger, in her 16th season, said this year's Terps are special.

"I see a certain passion in this team and they are able to stay focused on the immediate task at hand," said Kruger, who was named ACC Coach of the Year after her team finished second in the league despite being picked to finish seventh. "Usually youngsters this age have all kinds of things on their mind."

In the ACC tournament final, Maryland (26-7) upset regular-season champion and fourth-ranked Georgia Tech to earn an automatic berth in the NCAA field of 64. Senior outside hitter Lynnsy Jones was tournament Most Valuable Player.

This is the fifth NCAA tournament appearance for the Terps, who are ranked No. 25 in the USA Today/American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. Maryland and Michigan State were the only unseeded teams selected to be the hosts of first- and second-round games.

"That was a big plus for us," Huddleston said. "You always have a better chance on your home court. We're just going to go out and play with the same kind of intensity and togetherness that we've become known for."

There is little hint of star status surrounding this team, although the statistics point to Jones, Huddleston, junior Sarah Treadwell and sophomore Rachel Wagener as the leaders.

Jones leads the team in kills with 453 (3.65 a game) and aces (.50 average, second in the ACC). Huddleston has a whopping 1,599 assists, Treadwell has 419 digs (followed closely by senior Fiona DeFreitas at 409), and Wagener has an ACC-best 196 blocks.

American University (22-9) is led by 6-foot-2 senior outside hitter Karla Kucerkova from the Czech Republic. She averages 5.78 kills a game - sixth best in the nation - and is one of the Eagles' five international players as Moscow, Toronto, Brazil and Switzerland are also represented.

"We're going to have to offset all that ability by playing great team volleyball," Kruger said.

If the Terps - who are 6-0 against American - get past the Eagles, they probably will play the only seed in the four-team College Park field, Colorado State at No. 14.

The Rams (28-4) won the Mountain West Conference and have a 21-match winning streak. They meet George Mason (16-14) at 5:30 tonight in the first match.

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