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Championship Year for Blue Raider Volleyball

Ends season ranked 34th in nation

December 22, 2006 · MT Media Relations
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - It was a season of high-expectations for Middle Tennessee volleyball in 2006 and the Blue Raiders didn't disappoint.

Like a good Hollywood movie, however, the Blue Raiders did have to weather the storm of adversity to reach the triumphant end that was expected of them. The blow came early for Middle Tennessee, as before the season started the club's top player was ruled ineligible just days before the season started.

Head Coach Matt Peck had to assemble his youthful club and inform them their senior leader would not be with them. After the tears and looks of shocked disbelief the squad regrouped and embarked on the season.

It was a time of soul-searching and self-discovery for Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders found out who they were and where they wanted to be as they played No. 1 ranked and eventual NCAA Champion Nebraska the second week of the season. Middle Tennessee played in front of a crowd of over 5,000 fans and took something special away from the match.

"It was good for us," said sophomore outside hitter Ashley Adams. "It was an amazing atmosphere and we got to see what high-profile collegiate volleyball is all about."

Middle Tennessee, however, was still looking for an identity. The club was reeling after two rare losses at home during its home tournament but bounced back by winning the tournament at the University of Albany.

Then it was time for Middle Tennessee to enter Sun Belt Conference play. In the first eight matches of conference play the Blue Raiders held a record of 7-1, leading up to a home match with rival Western Kentucky who also had just one loss.

The second-largest crowd to watch a volleyball match, 1,022, was on hand to see Middle Tennessee take on Western Kentucky in Alumni Memorial Gym on October 17. In another classic battle, the match went to five games with the Blue Raiders on the losing end falling 3-2. However, it is true everything happens for a reason and the loss set up a more dramatic finish to end the regular season.

Middle Tennessee suffered two more conference losses through the course of the season and found itself concluding the regular season at Western Kentucky. In a weird twist, if Middle Tennessee won they would claim the No. 1 seed, but should the Blue Raiders lose they would fall to the No. 3 seed.

For the first time in six years Middle Tennessee got the upper-hand on the Hilltoppers. After dropping the first game, the Blue Raiders game back with a vengeance and won the match 3-1. Adams posted a career-high 26 kills and freshman setter Leslie Clark posted a career-high in assists with 62.

"I think the turning point for us was the win over Western Kentucky," Adams said. "We felt like we are coming together as a team. I think we had a lot more confidence and flet we could beat the higher-profiled teams."

In just three years Peck had taken a club that was just glad to "make" the eight-team tournament to a squad that was the team to beat. He becomes the first volleyball coach in school history to put together three-consecutive winning seasons and the first to have back-to-back 20-win seasons. He ended 2005 with 28 wins and completed the 2006 campaign with 27 wins.

Middle Tennessee entered the Sun Belt Tournament as the No. 1 seed and earned a share of the Sun Belt East. The Blue Raiders placed Adams, Ashley Asberry and Quanshell Scott on the First Team All-Conference list, the most in school history since joining the Sun Belt.

The club was on a mission and it seemed the teams the Blue Raiders faced were just roadblocks to maneuver around. After blanking Florida Atlantic 3-0, a club that had beat them earlier in the season, Middle Tennessee faced host North Texas. The club had to battle through a hostile home crowd but managed a 3-1 victory over the Mean Green to reach the Sun Belt finals for the second straight year.

However it wouldn't be a re-match of the 2005 Sun Belt Championships, as Florida International had dispensed with Western Kentucky to reach the finals. There would be a new champion.

A Blue Raider club with one purpose and a look of resolve took the court for the finals. After the disappointment of losing in the finals in 2005, this club was determined to be on the court celebrating when the match was over. For the third time Middle Tennessee shutout Florida International 3-0 but this one was the one that counted the most, as the win made the Blue Raiders the 2006 Sun Belt Tournament Champions.

Adams was voted Sun Belt Tournament MVP as she registered 63 kills averaging 6.30 kills per game in the tournament. Scott and senior Jessica Robinson were named All-Tournament.

The win assured Middle Tennessee an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, its first appearance in 11 years, since the club was a member of the Ohio Valley Conference. The Blue Raiders were placed in the Seattle Regional and faced host Louisville in the first round.

Middle Tennessee made history on December 1 winning its first match in the NCAA Tournament with a 3-2 victory over the Louisville Cardinals in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Middle Tennessee was down 9-3 in game five but refused to go quietly. The Blue Raiders fought back and tied the match at 11 off a service ace by Clark. Middle Tennessee took the lead, 12-11, when Asberry notched a kill and then led again 13-12 when Robinson got a kill. Down 14-13, Middle Tennessee reached match point off two huge kills by Adams. The Blue Raiders won the match thanks to a kill by Asberry.

Louisville failed to reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in since 2000. The win set up a match with No. 18 Ohio state in the second round.

"We are very excited to have won the match" Peck said. "I think one thing we thought about before the match was that Louisville may overlook us a little bit and focus on Ohio State. I think we had a good game plan."

Middle Tennessee volleyball fell in the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a 3-1 loss to No. 18 and 11th seeded Ohio. The Blue Raiders ended the season 27-8, the third-best single-season record in school history.

Adams' honors continued after the season. She was voted All-South Region and then a week later was named an AVCA Honorable Mention All-American. Adams had a breakout season in 2006. She completed the year with 547 kills which ranks third all-time in the Blue Raider record books for kills in a season. Adams averaged 4.45 kills per game and had a .360 attack percentage. A prolific attacker, Adams committed three or less errors in 16 of the Blue Raiders 35 matches.

Records were broken during the season. Senior setter Megan Sumrell became the first volleyball player in school history to record over 4,000 assists ending her career with 4,020. Peck had two setters on the bench that combined for over 5,000 assists as Clark became the first freshman setter in school history to go over 1,000 assists and completed her first season with 1,158 assists.

Junior libero Alicia Lemau'u broke the school record for digs in a career and will enter her senior year with 1,574. Sophomore Asberry broke the school record for block assists in a season with 167 and ranks third in the record books for blocks per game in a season with 1.50.

Middle Tennessee capped off its season by receiving six votes in the final AVCA poll of the season, ending the year ranked No. 34 in the nation.

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