Charles Dickens has nothing on Ashland University's volleyball team.
The 2016 season hasn't been "A Tale of Two Cities," but rather the Eagles' "Tale Of Two Halves."
After going 10-8 in the campaign's first 18 matches, Ashland has won 11 of its last 12 contests to go into the 2016 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament at 21-9, and with a No. 3 seed. The Eagles will begin the tourney with a quarterfinal match at Kates Gymnasium on Wednesday (Nov. 16) at 7 p.m. against No. 6 seed Wayne State (19-10).
"It's great to be back in the conference tournament, and more importantly, to be home in the first round of the conference tournament," said Ashland head coach Cass Dixon, whose team is making its 13th all-time appearance in the GLIAC Tournament, and will play its first home conference tournament match since Nov. 20, 2013 (a 3-0 win over Hillsdale). "Hopefully, we'll get a lot of great support from students and community and family and friends to help us get another win."
This will be the 2016 rubber match between the Eagles and Warriors – Wayne State won at home 3-2 on Sept. 17, and AU won at Kates Gymnasium 3-0 on Friday (Nov. 11).
"They always say it's hard to beat a team three times (in a season), so, in a way, I'm kind of glad we lost the first time we saw them," said Dixon. "Wayne's a good team. They're fighting for not only their life in the conference tournament, but their life in the NCAA tournament, so it's going to be a really good match."
Ashland went 10-0 at home during the regular season, giving the program its most wins in a season at The Kates since 2013 (11-3).
"As hard as the beginning of the year was, with being on the road all the time and all the travel that was involved, just coming home and being here, you just have a sense of comfort and a sense of confidence," Dixon said. "It's familiarity. You know what it's like to play in this gym."
Ashland not only is going for a GLIAC Tournament title, it also is going for an NCAA tournament appearance for the first time in three years. In the second set of Midwest Regional rankings, the Eagles were No. 8, and eight teams advance to the 64-team tournament, beginning on Dec. 1.
The third set of regional rankings are released on Wednesday afternoon, prior to the quarterfinal match, and the NCAA Division II postseason selection show will be Nov. 21 at 7:30 p.m. on NCAA.com.
"The first step is to make the conference tournament. The second step is to make the NCAA tournament," Dixon said. "I'm just really, really proud of the way the girls have continued to fight, and continued to just come in and get better every single day.
"If they didn't have that fighting spirit, that tenacity…we wouldn't be in this position."
Ashland has improved by 11 wins over the last two seasons (10 in 2014, 21 so far in 2016). That is the program's best two-year improvement since 2011 (15) to 2013 (26).
"You have to always be focused on the process," Dixon said. "If you lose sight of everything that's in the middle, you'll never make it to where you want to be. (Seniors) Alli (Cudworth) and Casey's (Clark) freshman year, we had some really, really great senior leadership. Combine that with the youth that we had, and we were very successful. And I compare this season very much with that one."
Tickets for Wednesday's match will be $8 for adults, $2 for Ashland University students and $5 for seniors and all other students. GLIAC passes will be honored.
2016 GLIAC VOLLEYBALL TOURNAMENT
QUARTERFINALS – WEDNESDAY, NOV. 16
Hosted at higher seed campus
Match 1 (7 PM): No. 1 Ferris State vs. No. 8 Grand Valley State
Match 2 (7 PM): No. 4 Saginaw Valley vs. No. 5 Michigan Tech
Match 3 (7 PM): No. 3 Ashland vs. No. 6 Wayne State
Match 4 (7 PM): No. 2 Findlay vs. No. 7 Lake Erie
SEMIFINALS – SATURDAY, NOV. 19
Hosted by Highest Remaining Seed
Match 5 (TBA): Match 3 Winner vs. Match 4 Winner
Match 6 (TBA): Match 1 Winner vs. Match 2 Winner
CHAMPIONSHIP – SUNDAY, NOV. 20
Match 7 (TBA): Match 5 Winner vs. Match 6 Winner