The Blackbirds are flying to California — and National Collegiate Athletics Association glory.
Long Island University’s women’s volleyball team snagged a spot in this Sunday’s NCAA volleyball tournament, where the Northeast Conference champions will face reigning national champs from the University of California, Los Angeles, in the first round.
The announcement came Sunday afternoon when a nationally televised broadcast on ESPNU placed the Blackbirds — who’s in the middle of a school-record 19-match winning streak — in the top half of the Berkeley region against the Bruins.
“Everyone is excited,” Long Island University coach Kyle Robinson said. “We were looking to get out of our region and we’re excited to go out west and play a formidable opponent.”
The Bruins is led by senior Rachel Kidder, last year’s Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins enter the tournament having won 10 of its last 13 matches.
It will be the Blackbirds’ fourth major conference opponent this season: the squad has already lost to Minnesota, St. John’s, and Maryland.
That said, the Blackbirds know the team has a major obstacle to overcome.
“I think it’ll be a hard game, but I’m excited to play it,” said sophomore Annika Foit, the reigning conference player. “It’s another huge step.”
But for Robinson, the match against the Bruins and coach Michael Sealy will feel more like a reunion: he and Sealy played professionally in Belgium in the late 1990s and early 2000s and, according to Robinson, “have remained good friends ever since.”
“Mike is someone I not only respect, but someone I look up to as a coach,” he said. “He’s someone I’ve learned a lot from; someone I grew up watching play as a late bloomer. Who better to compete against someone I care about?”
Robinson said he and his players will not treat the match any differently, even though it’s a NCAA tournament game.
“The message for us doesn’t change much,” Robinson said. “We’re not going to take the trip just to roll over. We’re going to go out there and give them a heck of a match.”
This will be the Blackbirds’ second trip to the West Coast this season. The team took part in the USF Asics Coca-Cola Invitational in San Francisco this September.