That is exactly what the University of Delaware volleyball team did in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Division I Volleyball Tournament against American University Friday night at Penn State University's Rec Hall as the Blue Hens advanced to the second round for the first time since 2007 with a 3-1 victory.
Set scores for the match were 17-25, 25-22, 25-22, and 25-23 as Delaware got past the Patriot League champion Eagles.
"Sometimes you have to win ugly," said Delaware head coach Bonnie Kenny, who has guided her team to its fourth NCAA Tournament in the last five seasons. "I think we really struggled early. Our numbers aren’t conducive to the way we have been playing. Obviously, we were good enough to win. American did a really good job attacking weaknesses that we had early that took us out of our system. We started executing better as the match went along. I thought every game we got a little bit better. Our serving picked up for us and took them out of their system a little bit more. The Blue Hens survive and advance.
Colonial Athletic Association champion Delaware (21-12), which extended its winning streak to seven matches, advances to play the No. 8 seed and host Penn State in the second round Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The No. 9 ranked Nittany Lions (24-7), the four-time defending national champions, advanced with a 3-0 victory in the other first round match Friday night.
The Blue Hens advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the Hens defeated Princeton, 3-1, in the first round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament at St. John’s.
Four Blue Hens with double-digit kill totals led Delaware against American Friday as Karina Evans and Alissa Alker (below right) each had a team-high 11kills while Kim Stewart and Chelsea Lawrence each added 10.
Senior setter Renee Tomko, the CAA Setter of the Year who was playing with a bandaged left hand, ran the office and came away with 43 assists, three kills, eight digs, and two block assists.
"We have been in this situation a lot of times before where we have been down in important games," Tomko said when asked about the first set deficit and the late game holes the Blue Hens climbed out of in sets three and four. "If we lose that game we are done. In our conference semifinal and final we did that. I think that says a lot that we believe in ourselves and when we are down it is far from over."
American, which advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the 12th time in the last 15 seasons, had a 10-match win streak snapped and lost for just the second time since mid-October.
The Blue Hens were slow out of the blocks, not having played a match since November 20. Tied at 4-4 in the first set, the Eagles went on a 7-1 run to take control of the match. Kenny used both timeouts in the set, with the second as the Hens trailed 20-13. Three straight attack errors by UD put American within two points of the set, and they closed it out with a kill by Juliana Crum.
Delaware got off to a better start in the second set, forcing American to call its first time out as the Hens led 13-7. With UD leading 22-15, the Eagles scored six straight points to get back in it. But Stewart stopped the run with a kill and Katie Hank tied the match with back-to-back kills.
Finding themselves down 21-19 in the third set, Lawrence put down consecutive kills and American added an attack error to allow Delaware to retake the lead. After an AU timeout, Tomko put the Blue Hens within two points of taking the set with a kill. An Eagle service error gave the Hens set point and Hank put away her second set point of the match, giving the Hens a 2-1 match advantage.
Again, Delaware found itself down late in the fourth set, trailing 20-15 and causing Kenny to call the teams’ second timeout. The Blue Hens took four of the next five points to get back in it, and then tied the match at 22 all on a kill by Evans. The set was tied again at 23-23 as Patriot League Player and Rookie of the Year Sara Rishell gave the Hens match point with an attack error. Stewart, a three-time All-CAA pick and a third team performer this season, ended the match with a kill, putting home her 10th kill of the match.
The Eagles also had four players with double-digit kills led by Morgan Hendrix with 12. Kelly McCaddin added 11 while Rebecca Heath and Rishell contributed 10 kills each. Crum led all back row defenders with 16 digs while Rishell and Crum each blocked six Delaware attacks.
The Blue Hens are now 2-4 all-time in NCAA Tournament matches and will face a powerful Penn State squad for the first time since 1981. Delaware holds a 3-2 all-time series lead against the Nittany Lions dating back to the first matchup in 1974. Penn State won the last meeting with a 2-0 victory back in 1981.
NCAA Tournament First Round
Delaware def. American, 3-1 (17-25, 25-22, 25-22 and 25-22)
Delaware (kills-assists-digs): Hank (9-0-6); Tomko (3-43-8); Stewart (10-2-15); Alker (11-0-7); Lawrence (10-0-1); Evans (11-0-0); Rosehill (0-1-15); Reigel (0-0-0); Walton (0-0-6).
American: Rishell (10-0-2); Crum (9-0-16); Smidova (0-30-11); Heath (10-0-14); Hammer (0-17-10); McCaddin (11-2-2); King (0-0-0); Rosburg (0-1-10); Giberti (0-0-2); Hendrix (12-0-1); Scarbrough (3-0-1); Miller (0-0-2).
Total Team Blocks: Delaware 7; American 12