The Richard Stockton College women's volleyball team seeks one goal today as the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament begins - win a first-round game.
The Ospreys have been bumped from the tournament's first round for the last five seasons and are 1-6 all time in the tournament. Stockton's only win came in 2000, 3-1 over Kings College (Pa.).
Stockton (27-6), which recently won its fifth straight New Jersey Athletic Conference title 25-20, 25-26, 25-16 over Rutgers-Camden, takes on Johns Hopkins (19-3) at 5:30 p.m. at the Maggs Physical Activities Center at Salisbury University in Maryland.
"Every year we're always saying it would be so awesome to get past the first round and it hasn't happened yet (in her time with the team) so this year it's an ultimate goal," said four-year starter and senior middle hitter Stephanie Warner on Wednesday.
Warner and seventh-year coach Allison Walker agree that this year looks promising.
Johns Hopkins may only have three losses, but two of them - Franklin & Marshall (1-3) and Salisbury (0-3) - are teams that Stockton beat. The Ospreys defeated Franklin & Marshall twice by scores of 3-1 and 3-2 and Salisbury 3-0.
Walker also believes that her offense has an advantage over the Blue Jays, who are on a nine-match win streak.
On Wednesday, Warner was named the NJAC Player of the Year for the second straight season, along with her fourth straight first-team nod. Juniors Nicole Serekian, a right-side hitter, and Kasey Hennecke, an outside hitter, joined Warner on the first team. Stockton also has freshman setter Shannon Clark, the conference Rookie of the Year, to set up her top hitters.
Combined, Warner, Serekian and Hennecke outweigh Johns Hopkins' top two hitters - freshman Jasmine Warmington, the Centennial Conference Player of the Year and Katie Schwarz, the conference Rookie of the Year and a conference second-team selection.
"(Johns Hopkins) is a younger team and we have some young girls on our team too, but I think our defense has improved tremendously, and I think it will help us pull out a win with my sophomore libero Ashley Gubistain in the back row," Walker said.
The Ospreys field a team of seven freshmen, two sophomores, four juniors and one senior in Warner.
Warner believes that this team has the potential to get to the Elite 8 if the program can finally get past the first round.
"We do have a young team, which others might look at us as a team that would get intimidated easily and choke," she said. "But I think we have a strong team and we have a really good connection as a whole. Hopefully we can use that to help each other out and help the freshmen overcome that nervousness."
Walker said today's outcome will depend a lot on how well the team works together as a unit.
"If someone else is having a down game, someone else steps up to the plate," she said. "So I'm hoping that's what pulls us through this weekend and gets us past that first round."
If Stockton wins today, they would play the winner of the match between host Salisbury and Mount Saint Mary (N.Y.) at 6 p.m. Saturday with the regional finals at 4 p.m. Sunday.
Contact Kelly Ashe: