The Dominion Post  
 

WVU volleyball team eager to make 1st postseason appearance in 26 years

Created on:   Mon, Nov 27, 2017   11:57 PM

Last modified:   Tue, Nov 28, 2017   12:08 AM

The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN — Payton Caffrey scarcely knew what to do with herself at this time last year.

The WVU volleyball standout had just completed a stellar freshman season, registering first-team all-Big 12 Conference honors and a spot on the league’s all-freshman team.

Yet her Mountaineers’ season was over — and that stung immensely.

“For me, I would constantly play volleyball 24-7 if I could,” Caffrey said with a smile.

She’s receiving a chance to extend her season and play postseason volleyball this week.

The Mountaineers (18-12) earned an automatic bid to the 32-team National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC) and will host Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES, 27-8) at 7 p.m. Nov. 28, at the Coliseum.

Temple (19-9) and Campbell (20-11) square off in the first game, at 4:30 p.m. The winners tangle at 6 p.m. Nov. 29.

This marks WVU’s first postseason bid since it appeared in the NIT, in 1991, long before any of the Mountaineers’ players were born.

The Mountaineers, who finished fifth in the Big 12, received an automatic bid as the first team in the league standings not selected for the 64-team NCAA tournament field.

“It’s a great step in the right direction,” said WVU coach Reed Sunahara, whose team joins Big 12 foes Texas Tech and TCU in the NIVC tourney. “We talked about the postseason prior to the season.

“That was one of their goals. Unfortunately, it’s not the NCAA, but it’s a postseason and NIVC will do for now. It gives us more opportunities to get better as we play.”

The NIVC is re-starting after a 22-year hiatus, with the last tournament in 1995. Caffrey recalls hearing about the revival of the NIVC in a series of text messages from her father, Michael.

“My dad kept saying he heard the NIT is coming for volleyball,” Caffrey said. “I thought, ‘No way, not now. They’ll never be able to start it up again in time for this year.’ ”

The NIVC became a reality, though.

“Just knowing there was a chance for postseason for us was huge,” Caffrey said. “We worked so hard this year. We showed it in our preseason and competing throughout Big 12 Conference play.”

WVU is coming off the biggest win in program history. The Mountaineers toppled No. 14 Kansas, 3-2, on Saturday, in Lawrence, Kan., in the regular-season finale, notching the school’s first-ever victory over a top 25 team.

WVU enters the NIVC with three victories in its last four matches. Mountaineers senior libero Gianna Gotterba believes WVU is playing its best volleyball of the season.

“Something has clicked within the last couple of weeks of our games, on and off the court,” she said. “When we were losing and saying, ‘We have to do this. We all have to be on the same page with this.’ Nobody was doing it.

“These last three games it clicked what we were talking about was finally happening. We’re all on the same page. We know we deserve it for how hard we work.”

Gotterba has endured a tumultuous four-year career at WVU.

The head coach who recruited her, Jill Kramer, bolted after Gotterba’s freshman year for the head job at her alma mater, TCU.

Many of Gotterba’s teammates transferred before Sunahara’s late hiring. The Mountaineers went 6-23 during Gotterba’s sophomore year and 12-18 a year ago.

Gotterba was injured during WVU’s season opener this year and missed a chunk of the season, but now she’s finishing her career in a postseason tournament.

“Obviously, I wish (the injury) had never happened,” she said. “Coming back and being able to play made me realize the one thing you love can be taken away from you at any minute.

“So why be nervous for a game? Why be hesitant? At the end of the day, it’s the last season I have. It’s helped me with my mind-set and being more aggressive.”

The thought of Gotterba playing more games in the Coliseum in the NIVC brings a smile to Sunahara’s face.

“I’m happy for her and the rest of the seniors,” he said. “With Gianna, she’s worked really, really hard to get to this point. She was playing well and then the first point of the first game she gets hurt.

“I’m going, ‘Oh, man, what do we do?’ She worked hard to get back. Now she’s playing the way she can play. She’s the anchor to our defense and ball control, and she’s helped tremendously.”

WVU and UMES are meeting for the second time. UMES took a 3-1 victory over the Mountaineers, on Sept. 7, 2012, at the Coliseum.

The Hawks are making their third postseason appearance.

“They have a great record,” Sunahara said. “They play a different style. They run a pretty fast offense, and they have some good athletes that take good swings at the ball.

“We have to take care of our side of the court and hopefully good things will happen.”

Caffrey insists the Mountaineers are not simply satisfied with being in a postseason tournament. They want to win a postseason tournament.

“We’re treating that game (tonight) like a national championship game or NIT championship game,” she said.

“We’re not taking any team lightly. Whoever we’re going to play, we have to treat them like a Texas team or Kansas team or any Big 12 team and go out there and do what we have to do.”

NOTES

Caffrey was named a first-team all-Big 12 selection for the second straight year on Nov. 27. Senior middle blocker Mia Swanegan was a second-team pick. Caffrey was named Big 12 co-offensive player of the week after recording 41 kills in wins over Kansas State and Kansas.

NIVC match tickets are $6 for general admission, $5 for students and $4 for youth and seniors. Groups of 10 or more can buy tickets for $3 each. Tickets are available at wvugame.com, calling 1-800-988-4263 or visiting the Mountaineer ticket office at the Coliseum’s gold gate.

Temple is coached by former WVU assistant Bakeer Ganes, who earned a master’s degree in athletic coaching education at WVU, in 2007.