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ON CAMPUS A look at the area college sports scene

Friday, September 2, 2011

Quinnipiac volleyball takes on all comers

It may have been for just a weekend and thousands of miles away from its home, but for three days the Quinnipiac women’s volleyball team had hit the big time.
The Bobcats took to the court staring across the net at one of the best volleyball programs in the country.
And they didn’t blink.
“It was great,” Quinnipiac coach Robin Sparks said. “We battled with them. We had great rallies and some great plays.”
While UCLA, ranked 12th in the nation and holders of three national titles, won the match in straight sets, Sparks saw her team perform like it was just another match.
“My girls got to see what it takes to play at that type of level and that’s invaluable,” Sparks said.
A day later Sparks said she had to force her team to leave a match between UCLA and another California powerhouse, Loyola Marymount.
“I told them we have to leave and go eat,” Sparks said. “But none of them wanted to leave it was such great volleyball.”
Afterward Sparks spent a bit more time convincing her team that the girls they were watching were the same girls that they had just played against the day before. That’s when she knew that things were changing for the Bobcats.
“We played three top 100 teams out there,” Sparks said. “We played UCLA, one of the best teams in the country. I know that UCLA didn’t play their starters the entire match, but they played, and I told them that they had just played against a girl who starts on the junior national team, that’s the type of players they competed against.
“These are entirely different types of programs. They have 12 scholarships. They start their seasons so much earlier. We didn’t even start until Aug. 16 and we’re playing against them a couple of weeks later.”
Sparks and the Bobcats left the tournament with an 0-3 mark with another trio of national powerhouses on tap again this weekend at Quinnipiac begins. They lost to UCLA 25-11, 25-16 and 25-19. They also lost to Cal-State Fullerton and Marymount. Quinnipiac will play in the Maryland Invitational this weekend against three more top teams. When Northeast Conference play finally begins Sparks feels the Bobcats will be ready for anything.
“I’m pretty excited. We’re way ahead of where we were in the past,” Sparks said. “We’ll be much more ready for the conference schedule and that’s what playing these games are all about.
“Now that we’ve played against teams that are in the NCAA tournament we’ll know what it takes to get in the tournament.”
The Bobcats feature setter Kayla Lawler, a fine passer and top-notch server who had five aces in the tourney. Taylor Payne, Kelby Carey and Brittany Robinson lead the offense and the versatile Logan Riker is a defensive star.
“Almost every other kid is contributing,” Sparks said. “We have three kids that are defensive standouts and that takes the pressure off.”
Then there’s Tierra Allen, the daughter of Boston Celtics star Ray Allen, who saw action in two matches in California. While Allen, a freshman, is still a bit raw, Sparks said she has unlimited potential.
“She hits the ball harder than anyone on the team,” Sparks said. “She has to learn all the little things about the game, but she is a tremendous athlete with great power. She just hasn’t played at this level before.”
Sparks said that now that the Bobcats have experienced the atmosphere of national-caliber volleyball she expects them to improve work habits.
“What I learned is that we a lot of room for improvement. We have to work out the offensive kinks, but I was really pleased with how we played and how steady we were.”
Contact Bill Cloutier at 203-789-5653. Follow Bill on Twitter @BillCloutier. To receive breaking sports news first — simply text the word “nhsports” to 22700. Standard msg+data rates may apply.

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