There’s something about the Icardo Center that leaves Cal State Bakersfield’s volleyball players feeling a little bit more comfortable on the court.
There’s no travel required to get there, the fans in attendance are mostly supporting their cause and it’s where they practice basically every day.
“It’s just a fun environment,” senior outside hitter Briannah Mariner said. “We thrive in it.”
CSUB went 10-2 at home during the regular season and just 4-13 at road or neutral sites. So the Roadrunners are fortunate that the Western Athletic Conference Tournament, which starts Thursday and finishes Saturday, will be at the Icardo Center.
The Roadrunners, seeded fifth, will face fourth-seeded Utah Valley at 4:30 p.m. in the first round. The winner will play top seed Texas-Rio Grande Valley on Friday at 4:30 p.m. in the semifinals. The championship is set for Saturday at 7 p.m.
The games will be streamed online on ESPN+ for viewers in the United States and on the WAC Digital Network for international viewers.
“Obviously our record in our gym is much better than on the road,” head coach Giovana Melo said. “I think being in the gym is going to be helpful for us, just being a little bit more comfortable at home.”
Melo was expecting an up-and-down regular season and that’s exactly what she got. The Roadrunners rattled off a seven-match win streak during September but soon followed it up with a five-match losing streak.
The string of wins started with CSUB’s first home match of the year and the Roadrunner Open, spilling into the beginning of conference play. The Roadrunners took down No. 1 UTRGV and No. 2 New Mexico State.
The run of seven losses in nine games that followed included five road defeats, five home losses and two home wins.
“We had a really good run and then we kind of mentally broke down a little bit once we had a couple losses,” Melo said. “... On the winning streak, they were confident. Nothing really phased them. They were battling and fighting against the good and bad that was happening. And when we started losing, I think that mentality was more, ‘We have to do this. We have to do this,’ and they weren’t enjoying anymore what they were doing. It created that pressure that we really didn’t need.”
CSUB’s players did not stay mentally tough and lost focus a little bit, sophomore outside hitter Desiree Sukhov said.
The team lost its biggest strength: its fiery attitude and competitive nature, Melo added.
Every team Melo has had flipped its mentality once the conference tournament started. It’s worked, as CSUB has won two WAC Tournaments — and gone to two NCAA volleyball tournaments as a result — and played in the WAC finals four times in Melo’s five years at CSUB.
And though this is the Roadrunners’ first time lower than a No. 3 seed, Melo isn’t putting much stock in the regular season.
“Where you stand in the bracket matters a little bit, but if this is the time to turn it on, it’s the time to turn it on,” Melo said. “I think they’re capable of doing that and going in with that mentality that nothing that has happened before matters.”
CSUB will have the added bonus of being at home. The only other time the Roadrunners hosted the WAC Tournament (2014), they won the title.
“It’s so dope. I’m so excited,” Mariner said. “All of our family is gonna be in town. It’s Thanksgiving. What other great way to be surrounded by your school, your family, your friends than on Thanksgiving when you're just thankful for everything.”