VB : SU to lean on experience in competitive Big East tournament
Heading into the Big East tournament, Syracuse is a much different team than last year. Similar to 2007, the Orange has an 8-6 record as its travels to Pittsburgh to compete in this weekend’s eight-team conference championship. Like 2007, the Orange faces Louisville in the first round on Friday in Pittsburgh.
Other than that, most things have changed, including the Orange’s experience, confidence and competition.
‘Not one team is really dominant,’ senior Brittany Kern said. ‘Playing every game, anyone can be beaten and anyone can win. Now we’re seeded higher and the gap between us and Louisville and the other Big East teams is a lot closer.’
The Big East has become more competitive and less predictable. Four teams have 10 wins or more in Big East play, compared to last year when only St. John’s and Cincinnati dominated the conference with 13-1 records. Lower-ranked teams have upset higher-ranked teams. Last week, DePaul, which finished the season 4-10, defeated St. John’s, the top-seeded team in the tournament, in four sets.
As the Big East has becomes more competitive, so has the Orange. At last year’s Big East championships, Syracuse earned an eighth seed and was swept by Louisville. Heading into the tournament this year, the Orange is seeded sixth while the Cardinals have earned the third seed. Against Louisville during the regular season, Syracuse rebounded from a 25-22 loss in the first set to win the second 25-16, before losing the final two sets.
‘We definitely know that we can win against Louisville,’ junior Kacie MacTavish said. ‘I think we have a lot more to show them than they are really expecting.’
What Syracuse is expecting to show is the experience that it has built this season. The Orange learned not to rely on just one player. In the beginning of the season, MacTavish and junior Sarah Morton dominated box scores. MacTavish has already tallied 268 kills and 22 assists this season, while Morton has made 336 kills and 157 total blocks. Throughout the season, other teams have learned to defend against Morton’s blocks.
‘We’ve experienced Sarah Morton being the main force and that always doesn’t work,’ assistant coach Carol LaMarche said. ‘We need our defense to pick up. We’re looking for a balanced offense. We’re looking for a team win. I don’t think we can win with just one person.’
With a 17-14 overall regular season record, the Orange has been through various situations, from a five-set comeback against Binghamton at the beginning of the season to a fifth-set collapse to Cincinnati after leading 12-8 in the final set. The Orange has swept teams, like Rutgers and West Virginia, and been swept by teams like Seton Hall and Villanova.
‘I feel like we have experienced every possible scenario this season,’ LaMarche said. ‘With that, hopefully we’ve learned from all the good and all the bad and we can take that into this weekend.’
At the Big East tournament, Syracuse will face teams it has already faced in the regular season, including Louisville, which features 6-foot-6 blocker Jana Matiasovska, who contributed to Louisville’s 16 blocks against Syracuse. But MacTavish said that the Orange can find a way around the block.
‘I think that we can switch up our offense and it won’t be that much of a big deal,’ MacTavish said. ‘As long as our defense is there, I don’t think they can really stop us.’
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