Cal State Bakersfield volleyball head coach Giovana Melo already had a hunch of what the Roadrunners’ matchup would be. But that didn’t stop her from throwing both arms in the air and looking around the room with a wide smile after her CSUB squad was revealed on the televised NCAA tournament selection show.
Her hunch and the result: defending national champion Stanford.
The Roadrunners (19-13) will travel to Maples Pavilion in Stanford to take on the No. 3 overall seed Cardinal (26-3) on Friday at 7 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The CSUB team and a small group of fans watched the selection show from the Lengthwise Brewing Company location on District Boulevard on Sunday night.
“It’s an exciting moment no matter who we’re playing,” Melo said. “It’s just the fact that we’re there and we’re ready. … We have a lot of young girls having this opportunity for the first time. It’s just a very unique and cool experience that they’re about to face.”
One week ago, the Roadrunners locked up their place in the NCAA tournament with a win over host Texas-Rio Grande Valley in the Western Athletic Conference title game. They came into the tournament as the fourth seed out of six teams, but left with their second ever WAC championship.
CSUB had to get past top-seeded New Mexico State in the second round, which had lost just four sets — and no games — in its previous 11 matches. The Roadrunners won in four sets. It took four sets for CSUB to beat No. 2 UTRGV, too.
Senior outside hitter Aleksandra Djordjevic was named the WAC tournament MVP and teammates Fabiana Andrade and Sydney Haynes landed on the WAC All-Tournament team.
“We were playing the best volleyball that we possibly could be playing at the WAC Tournament,” Melo said.
Now the Roadrunners will try to take down a juggernaut in Stanford. The Cardinal and Penn State are the only two teams to earn berths to all 37 women’s volleyball NCAA tournament’s.
Stanford has a new coach but returned all but one starter from the title-winning team a season ago. Stanford’s Jenna Gray is third in the nation with 12.12 assist per set and Kathryn Plummer is sixth with 5.43 assists per set. As a team, it had the seventh-best hitting percentage.
“They’re good, but we were expecting to play somebody good no matter what,” CSUB middle blocker Haley Roberts said. “We’re obviously underdogs, but we’re ready to fight.”
The CSUB players had to watch as Stanford was repeatedly shown and hyped up on the ESPNU selection show.
The only other time the Roadrunners reached the NCAA tournament in 2014, it played the No. 1 overall seed in Stanford. The Cardinal won that game in three sets with CSUB getting to 21 points in the first two.
The Roadrunners have one player — redshirt senior middle blocker Sydney Haynes — from that 2014 team still on the roster.
“They’re big, but I think we have big hearts and we can battle with them,” senior libero/setter Emily Lopes said.
Melo took a different approach this season, focusing on the day-to-day improvements instead of the end goal of a conference title. She’d pick an area for the team and each player to get 1 or 2 percent better in each day.
A few games into conference play on Oct. 2, Melo said that process would be the key to a successful season. The Roadrunners proved her right.
“It paid off for sure,” Melo said. “Now it’s just continuing to do a little bit more of it and see what we can do at the NCAA tournament.”
CSUB will try to be the first WAC team to win an NCAA tournament game since Hawaii made it to the regional (third) round in 2011.
Tickets for the first and second rounds will be available starting at 9 a.m. on Monday via www.GoStanford.com or by calling 1-800-STANFORD.