“There was more energy, more heart and more drive in that match than I have ever seen,” Melito said. “I’m hoping we can recall that against Oklahoma.”
Kelsey Melito and the Crimson Tide rode that emotional wave and earned the program’s fourth trip to the NCAA tournament, which is a rare feat for Alabama volleyball. The Tide will open the tournament Thursday against the Oklahoma Sooners in Palo Alto, Calif.
Under former coach Judy Green, Alabama made consecutive NCAA tournament appearances from 2005-07, but suffered first-round losses each time.
In the third year of coach Ed Allen’s tenure, the Tide finished the regular season with a 24-9 overall record and finished fourth in the Southeastern Conference at 11-7.
So what’s the different about this season?
“We’re physically more gifted than what we were in years past and that has everything to do with where we are at right now,” Allen said. “Having a degree of expectation and expecting athletes to fulfill what that expectation is, is the other part of it. We’re athletically and emotionally a much more stable team than those first two teams that I had here.”
Added Melito: “The drive to compete, to just go out and give everything you have is definitely different. … Coach Allen brings that level up because he’s a competitive person and you’re automatically going to follow what your main leader does.”
Of the 12 players on the current team, only four are upperclassmen — two seniors, two junior.
One Tide player has experienced an NCAA tournament atmosphere. Senior Andrea McQuaid played one season at Oklahoma before transferring. That year, the Sooners made the tournament, but McQuaid didn’t see any action. McQuaid still has friends who play for the Sooners.
“My best friend is on the team, and we’ve been texting and talking a little trash,” McQuaid said. “It will be fun and emotional. It’s an exciting thing for the team, and it’s going to be a great time.”
Allen said he’s going to get the team to approach it like any other significant match.
“We’ll do what we can to prepare them prior to playing and it’ll be there job to go out and play,” Allen said. “We’re at a place where it’s one-and-done, you either play or go home for the year.”
The is 3-1 all-time against the Sooners, with the Sooners posting a 3-0 victory. The last time the two met, the Sooners posted a 3-0 victory Aug. 25, 2007.