Wittenberg Volleyball Opens 2012 Season Ranked No. 5 In The Nation
Springfield, Ohio – For the second straight year, the Wittenberg Tiger volleyball team will open a season ranked No. 5 in the preseason American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) NCAA Division III national poll. Head Coach Paco Labrador can only hope it is an auspicious coincidence.
After starting the 2011 season at No. 5 in the national poll, the Tigers climbed all the way to the top spot by winning the first NCAA Division III national championship in program history. Wittenberg became just the eighth different program to finish a season ranked No. 1 since the AVCA started its national poll in 1992, and the Tigers are one of just 10 programs to earn a No. 1 ranking at any point during the last 20 seasons.
Wittenberg ranks sixth in NCAA Division III history with 165 appearances in the weekly poll, and the Tigers have ranked in the final national top 25 every year since 1999.
The Tigers are coming off a magical 2011 season that included a 37-3 overall record, just one win off the school record of 38 set in 2007. Along the way, Wittenberg won its 17th North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) regular season championship while extending its conference domination to 157 wins in the last 159 matches, stretching back to the 1997 season. The 16-0 NCAC regular season record earned the Tigers their eighth title in Labrador's nine seasons and the 17th title in the last 20 years for Wittenberg overall.
After capturing their 17th NCAC Tournament title, including 14 in the last 15 years, the Tigers hit the road to capture the NCAA Division III Tournament crown in most unlikely fashion. Wittenberg traveled to No. 1-ranked Calvin to defeat Rose-Hulman, Heidelberg and the 2010 NCAA Division III champion Knights before heading to St. Louis, where the Tigers swept California Lutheran, Eastern (Pa.) and Christopher Newport to raise the famed Walnut & Bronze trophy for the first time.
Labrador's record now stands at a phenomenal 296-41, including an NCAC regular season mark of 114-2. He leads active NCAA Division III coaches with a .877 win percentage and ranks second among active coaches in all NCAA divisions.
The title defense begins Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 with the Courtyard by Marriott Wittenberg National Invitational, which includes Whitworth, Wartburg and Trinity (Texas), all of which are also ranked in the preseason AVCA poll. The challenging early-season schedule also includes nationally ranked foes Juniata, Hope, Calvin, Washington University and preseason No. 1 Christopher Newport, which lost to Wittenberg in the 2011 national championship match. Wittenberg opens NCAC regular season play Wednesday, Sept. 19, with a trip to Denison.
A total of six letterwinners return to the line-up in 2012, starting with the talented setting duo of Hallie Donathan, class of 2013 from Tipp City, Ohio, and 2011 NCAC Newcomer of the Year Meghan Vodopich, class of 2015 from Canton, Ohio. They will be joined in the line-up by 2011 NCAC Libero of the Year Christina Gilene, class of 2013 from Milford, Ohio, outside hitter Jessica Batanian, class of 2013 from Toledo, Ohio, and middle hitter Andrea Behling, class of 2014 from Columbus, Ind.