BALTIMORE – After reaching the championship match of the America East tournament last season, the UMBC volleyball team will make two trips west this season, and face three NCAA Tournament participants from 2013, in addition to the always rigorous conference slate, as a apart of an ambitious 2014 regular season schedule, Retriever head coach Ian Blanchard announced on Thursday afternoon.
"We're going to have some significant challenges in our preconference schedule" Blanchard remarked. "It's going to be a lot of travel, but it's going to be exciting to see parts of the country that some of our young women have never seen before.
"Certainly taking on some top-25 teams presents some exciting competition for us as BYU, Washington, and Arizona are all traditionally top-25 teams. We will be heavily tested early."
The Retrievers will begin the season with a trip to Maryland's Eastern Shore for a weekend tournament at UMES on Aug. 29-30. The Black and Gold will take on South Dakota State and Fairleigh Dickinson on the first day followed by matches against Weber State and the weekend-host Hawks on the second day of the two-day event in Princess Anne. The Retrievers have never faced the Jackrabbits of SDSU, nor the Wildcats from Weber State, and have not opposed the Knights of FDU since 2011. The meeting between UMBC and UMES will be the first since 2008.
From there, UMBC travels west for the first time since 2011 when the squad heads to Utah for a weekend at Brigham Young University. BYU made it to the Sweet 16 in 2013 after receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Cougars went 24-7 overall last season while posting a perfect 11-0 record at home. The University of Washington, a national semifinalist a year ago, and Utah State will also be attending the tournament in the Beehive State.
"It's going to be really cool to be in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah," said the head coach. "We're certainly going to use that opportunity to expose our athletes to some beautiful sites and outdoor activities while taking on some tough competition."
Upon returning to Baltimore, UMBC will host the sixth annual Maddie Bingaman Memorial Tournament at the RAC Arena from Sept. 12-13. The Retrievers welcome Eastern Michigan and Coppin State during the festive weekend, taking on EMU on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. before hosting CSU at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday.
"We're excited about hosting the Maddie Bingaman Memorial Tournament once again this season," said Blanchard, who enters his tenth season as the head man in the fall. "The weekend coincides with the Star Spangled Spectacular downtown at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and it should be great weekend of volleyball and a celebration of our nation's and region's great history."
The next weekend, the Retrievers once again fly away, this time to Tucson, Ariz. for three weekend matches at the University of Arizona. UMBC will take on the host Wildcats in the desert on the second day of competition (Sept. 20), after facing Baltimore rival Coppin State and Tulane the previous day. Arizona advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago after posting a 19-13 regular season with a 10-10 mark in Pac-12 play.
After wrapping up non-conference play on Friday, Sept. 26 at Howard, UMBC opens its 12th season in the America East with a weekend road trip to play Stony Brook (Oct. 3) and Hartford (Oct. 5). The Retrievers return home to the RAC Arena for a Friday evening date with UMass Lowell (Oct. 10), before welcoming defending league champion New Hampshire to their home court for a Sunday matinee on Oct. 12 at 2:00 p.m.
"The conference is once again going to be very tight and I look forward to a highly competitive season," Blanchard asserted. "You've got UNH, who won it last year, Stony Brook, who was right there and has a great incoming class, Albany will be back as always, and Binghamton is always tough. Again, it's going to be anybody's game."
UMBC then hits the road for back-to-back weekends, first to New York to oppose Albany (Oct. 17) and Binghamton (Oct. 19), and then to New England for return contests against UNH on Friday, Oct. 24 and UML on Sunday, Oct. 26.
The Retrievers close out the regular season with four straight home matches, beginning with a 7:00 p.m. matchup with Hartford on Halloween. Two days later, UMBC hosts Stony Brook at the RAC Arena before receiving the second weekend of November off from competition.
On the final weekend of the regular season, the Retrievers welcome Binghamton to Baltimore on Friday, Nov. 14 before Albany comes calling once again on Senior Day (Nov. 16). Match times have not been set for the final three contests of the season.
"We feel really good with the returning veterans that we have," Blanchard explained. "Out of the possible seven starters, we have four coming back, but replacing the two-time Setter of the Year in Mallory (McIntyre), a tremendous middle hitter in Emily (Witsaman), and the best pound-for-pound player in Ali Goc, there are going to be some big shoes to fill.
"Overall, though, I have a lot of confidence in the young women and veterans that we're bring back for the season ahead."
UMBC went 19-12 overall last season with a 9-5 mark in America East play, the most conference wins in team history since joining the league in 2003. The Retrievers also posted a 10-2 record at the RAC Arena in 2013, giving the team back-to-back ten-win seasons on their home court.
"There will be some growing pains, especially given the challenges we're facing early in the season, but I'm really excited about having the opportunity to coach this great combination of strong veteran players and great rookies," Blanchard declared.
- After opening America East play at home last year, with a 3-1 win over Stony Brook, UMBC begins league play on the road in 2014. The Retrievers have opened conference play on the road just four of the previous 11 seasons.
- The Retrievers finish the regular season at home for the first time since 2010. Since 2003, UMBC has concluded the regular season at the RAC just four times.