UCLA gives Towson a bump up

Tigers' loss to Bruins still a signal program is on the rise

College Volleyball

September 13, 2006|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun reporter

Until last night, no UCLA athletic team had ever set foot on the Towson University campus.

In fact, the schools had competed only once in history in any sport - when both were in the 1990 NCAA gymnastics championships at Oregon State.

So, when the third-ranked UCLA women's volleyball team entered the Towson Center for the 10th of its 15 consecutive matches on the road, this was a happening of particular significance.

Towson provided stern competition throughout the first game, but couldn't keep pace thereafter, losing in a sweep, 32-30, 30-23, 30-25, to end a six-match winning streak. More importantly, it played before a record crowd of 815.

"The crowd, the whole atmosphere, is what this program needs," Tigers athletic director Mike Hermann said.

"It was a match that could get the fans here," first-year coach Paul Koncir added. "I hope some of them liked what they saw."

Even though the match-up was achieved through a somewhat roundabout method, the Tiger players viewed it as a statement of the worth of their rising prowess.

"It means a lot, brings a lot of prestige to the program, knowing that UCLA wants to come to the East Coast and wants to give us the time of day," junior tri-captain Kimberly Snider said. "They were still very impressive, but we hung in there with them."

The timing is what fell propitiously for Towson (7-3). UCLA (10-0) is on a quarter system and will not begin classes until September 28. Starting August 26, the Bruins became a set-and-spike road show.

Last weekend, they played three times in the Pioneer Classic in Denver and this weekend they are the featured attraction in the Hilton Garden Inn Greenbelt Invitational at the University of Maryland before launching their Pacific 10 schedule on a trip to Oregon and Oregon State next weekend.

"We wanted to come to the East Coast and play in front of Nana's hometown folks," said UCLA coach Andy Banachowski, in reference to senior middle blocker Nana Meriwether of Potomac.

"Rather than go home from Denver and then come [to the East Coast], we decided to try to get another match and the Maryland people suggested Towson."

The match was arranged between Banachowski and Towson's former coach, Chris Riley, who left for Virginia Tech and was replaced on July 24 by Koncir.

"It's great coming back. I hardly ever get to the East Coast and I have a lot of friends coming to the tournament at Maryland," Meriwether said. "They surprised us a little at first, because we haven't practiced and it was little hard to get the feel of things."

Towson bore no financial burden for the match. Since it was at home, there were no travel costs. "Officials are about the only expenditure," Hermann said. To the fans, the match marked an opportunity to see one of the nation's best for no admission fee.

"Usually in a situation like this [an invitational tournament], the hosts help you out with the housing," said Banachowski, the first Division I women's coach to win 1,000 matches. "We decided to stay in the same place all week and travel to Towson."

Towson has long been a competitive team at a lower Division I level, winning regular-season or tournament titles in four different leagues since 1984. In 2004, the team captured the Colonial Athletic Association crown and made an NCAA appearance.

The UCLA contest should aid recruiting and stir more interest in the team.

"You get more pumped up, more psyched for one like this," Snider added. "The possibility of taking a game away from them or even winning does that."


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