For the first time in the history of the Volleyball Hall of Fame Morgan Classic, a team from the Conference Carolinas will compete in the non-conference tournament.
The Volleyball Hall of Fame informed Off the Block during the weekend that Lees-McRae is one of the four teams selected to play in the 2012 Morgan Classic Invitational.
Along with Lees-McRae, Springfield, UC Santa Cruz and the defending-tournament champions Cal Baptist will play in the Morgan Classic on Feb. 10-11, 2012, in Massachusetts.
“We are honored to represent our conference and our institution at this tournament,” Lees-McRae coach James Goodridge said Monday. “I think with the growth of our conference we will see more Conference Carolinas teams play in these tournaments. We’ve done a good job with non-conference opponents in the past and earned a shot to be invited, and we are lucky and fortunate to be invited.”
The Morgan Classic is an annual two-day tournament at Springfield College, the birthplace of volleyball, and named after the inventor of volleyball William Morgan.
Lees-McRae finished last season in second place in the Conference Carolinas. The Bobcats have five returning starters for the upcoming season — but will be without outside attacker Chad Mercado, who as a senior was named a 2011 First-Team Conference Carolinas selection.
Lees-McRae also pulled off the biggest non-conference upset in the two-year history of the Conference Carolinas.
Lees-McRae overcame a one-game deficit to defeat Ball State in five games in March. In addition, Lees-McRae almost upset then-No. 9 Penn State on the road in February before losing to the Nittany Lions in five games.
Goodridge said his team played well in big non-conference matches last season because the team was young and entered the match believing it could win. The coach also said with so many starters returning the Bobcats have high expectations for the upcoming season.
“Expectations are high. We really do think athletically we can hang with the big boys,” Goodridge said. “There are some things we need to touch on technically and be more fundamentally sound. If we can bring a high level of intensity and our A game night in and night out, the sky is the limit for this team.”
The Conference Carolinas is entering its third year of existence and will add a sixth team, Barton College, to the conference for the 2012 season. Six teams is the NCAA minimum needed for a conference to receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
As an emerging men’s volleyball conference, the Conference Carolinas will become eligible for a NCAA Tournament berth in 2014.
Goodridge said being from such a new conference it is important that teams from the Conference Carolinas perform well at these types of non-conference tournaments.
“If we have a poor showing, people are going to start to wonder if we are ready as a conference to be at that next level,” he said. “The conference is new but some programs have been around for a while. We’ve been around and played before, which is one of the reasons that we are the right team in the conference to get the opportunity to play in these bigger non-conference matches.”
Lees-McRae and Cal Baptist will play in the Morgan Classic’s first semifinals match at 6 p.m. Feb. 10.
Cal Baptist, a team transitioning to Division II, won the NAIA national championship in April and upset several top-10 nationally ranked Division I-II teams throughout the 2011 regular season such as UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara.
This is the second consecutive season that the Lancers will travel across the country to play in the Morgan Classic. Cal Baptist swept Grand Canyon in the semifinals and Pacific in the championship match last season to win its first Morgan Classic title in program history.
Springfield and UC Santa Cruz will play in the other semifinals match at 8 p.m. Feb. 10.
Springfield traditionally each season has helped host and played in the Morgan Classic.
Springfield reached the 2011 EIVA championship match during its final season in the conference. The Pride announced earlier this year that they will leave the EIVA to join a Division III conference for the 2012 season and compete for the inaugural NCAA Division III championship.
UC Santa Cruz ended last season 7-13 and failed to reach the non-NCAA sanctioned Division III national tournament for the first time in four years. This is the first time the Banana Slugs will play the Pride since the two teams met at the 2010 Division III championship match, which Springfield won in four games.
The winners of the two semifinal matches will advance to the championship match on Feb. 11, while the losers will play in the third-place match earlier that day.
In addition to the tournament, the Morgan Classic will include a player and coaches clinic prior to the championship and third-place matches. Players and coaches in attendance at the clinic will have the chance to learn skills from the four teams in the tournament.