Point Park women's volleyball digs success
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The Point Park University women's volleyball squad is proof that to be the best a team has to play the best.
Point Park has advanced to the NAIA national tournament for the first time and will play at Indiana Tech at 1 p.m. Saturday in a first-round match in Fort Wayne, Ind.
The winner will advance to Sioux City, Iowa, where the rest of the tournament will be contested Nov. 29- Dec. 3.
The top 12 teams in the NAIA tournament receive first-round byes. The rest of the 36-team field is broken up into 12 matches at campus sites with those winners advancing to Sioux City.
The Pioneers (36-5) won the American Mideast Conference title. Indiana Tech (33-5) is ranked No. 17 in the NAIA Top 25 poll.
Point Park coach Mike Bruno isn't surprised by the Pioneers' success. They were 29-10 last year, making it to the conference tournament and had a 32-8 record the previous season and played in the AMC final.
"I knew the talent was there," said Bruno, in his seventh season at Point Park. He compiled a 116-58 record in five years as Waynesburg University coach before joining the Pioneers. He was an assistant coach at California (Pa.) University for two years before that.
One of the keys to Point Park's success has been its schedule. Three of its losses have come against California (Pa.), 3-0; Wheeling Jesuit, 3-1; and Gannon, 3-2. All three are in the NCAA Division II Atlantic regional tournament that began Thursday at California and will conclude Saturday at 6 p.m. with the championship match.
"There are a lot of Division II teams in this area, and we've played them ... at their gyms. We're like road warriors," Bruno said. "We've lost to the top three [Division II teams] in the area, but those games helped make us better.
"We're battle tested and we won't see much better competition than we got from playing those schools."
The bulk of Point Park's squad is made up of players from WPIAL high schools. The rest are from eastern Ohio or the Erie area.
"It is pretty much a Western Pennsylvania/Eastern Ohio all-star team," said Bruno, a Kiski Area High School and Robert Morris University graduate.
One of the top players is Lindsey Oberacker, a 6-foot junior outside hitter from McDowell High School near Erie.
Another is sophomore Brittany Lhota, a 6-2 middle hitter from Latrobe and a transfer from Pitt.
In a 3-1 victory against Holy Name this past weekend that earned the Pioneers a spot in the national tournament, Oberacker had 18 kills and 18 digs, while Lhota had 16 kills. Setter Tayler Pugliese, a junior from Ashtabula, Ohio, and a transfer from Notre Dame College in Ohio had 56 assists.
Two of the team's other top players are defensive specialists Alyssa Hall from Moon and Margaret Gillooly from Seneca Valley. Both are juniors, and Hall averages a team-best 3.88 digs a game with Gillooly averaging 2.39 digs.
What's interesting is that Bruno was a track and cross-country runner in high school. He got involved coaching volleyball while working as recreation director at Rockview state prison near Bellefonte, Pa.
"They had a varsity team and went around and played teams from other prisons. That's how I got started. I was like 24, 25 years old," he said.
In each of the three seasons before Bruno arrived at Point Park, the Pioneers finished 0-18.
The Slippery Rock and California women's soccer teams will meet for the second time this season at 2:30 p.m. today at Sullivan Field in Albany, N.Y., with a lot more on the line than just a victory in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division.
They have advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division II tournament. It is the third consecutive season California (19-0-2) has played in the round of 16.
The Vulcans defeated the Rock (16-4-2), 1-0, in the regular season and have a five-game winning streak against Slippery Rock.
In the first game, the College of Saint Rose, the host school, will play the University of Massachusetts/Lowell.
The winners will meet at 1 p.m. Sunday with a trip to the final four Dec. 1-3 in Pensacola, Fla., on the line.
First Published November 18, 2011 12:00 am