Some days Park University women’s volleyball coach Mike Talamantes feels like his team does not even need him there.
That is the luxury that comes with an experienced and determined team that was disappointed with an early exit from pool play of the NAIA Tournament last year.
“They came back in shape and ready to play,” Talamantes said. “It was all about winning games and they have been on fire since the beginning of the season.”
Not only is No. 2 Park the only undefeated team in college volleyball with a 34-0 record going into the NAIA Tournament, but the Pirates have dropped just two of 104 sets this season.
Park will try to continue its success when it starts Pool B play against Evangel University at 1 p.m. Tuesday in Sioux City, Iowa. Park will also face Eastern Oregon at 1 p.m. Wednesday and Grand View at 3:15 p.m. Thursday. The winner of each pool will advance to bracket play Friday.
“We haven’t been thinking about needing to sweep or needing to send a statement, it has been about handling the business in front of us like we want to do at the national tournament,” Talamantes said. “We don’t talk about our record. We don’t talk about the sets or the undefeated streak. All we talk about is our next opponent.”
In Pool B, the Pirates have familiarity working in their favor because they faced Evangel and Grand View earlier this season. Park won both matches in straight sets in September.
The Pirates won the American Midwest Conference title and had seven all-conference honorees, including player and newcomer of the year Wendy Romero. She was the second Pirate in two seasons to earn player of the year, joining Wanessa Siqueira, who was also on first team. Talamantes was coach of the year and Juliana Barros was setter of the year.
Romero, Siqueira and Barros lead a high-powered attack that has helped the Pirates rank in the top 10 nationally for service aces, assists and kills per game. They also have the second-best hitting percentage at 0.315. Romero ranks eighth in the NAIA with 4.35 kills per set, Siqueira is 18th with a .338 hitting percentage and Barros is seventh with 10.98 assists per set.
Even with all the offensive weapons, Siquira said the defense is really driving the Pirates’ success this season. Daniela Duarte leads the back row with 369 digs.
“Our blockers are working a lot better this year which is the biggest difference,” Siqueira said. “We also have a lot more players on the back row who can dig every ball. The chemistry within the team is also much better than last year.”
The KU women are one of 16 national seeds for the NCAA Division I tournament and open against Arkansas-Little Rock at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Topeka Expocentre.
KU’s home gym, the Horejsi Family Athletics Center, is too small to host a NCAA event and Allen Fieldhouse is occupied by the KU men’s basketball team against Florida at 8 Friday night. If the Jayhawks win, they’d face the Creighton-Oregon State winner at 6:30 Saturday night for a spot in the Sweet 16 in Ames, Iowa.
K-State also made the tournament and will face Utah at 4:30 p.m. Friday in Lincoln, Neb. If the Wildcats win, they’d face the winner of host Nebraska, the No. 14 overall seed, and Hofstra at 7 Saturday night for a spot in the Sweet 16 in Seattle.
The NCAA Division III men’s and women’s semifinals and championships will be contested Friday and Saturday at Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City. Tickets are available at the gate.
On the men’s side, Oneonta (N.Y) plays Wheaton (Ill.) at 11 a.m. Friday and Tufts (Mass.) plays Ohio Wesleyan at 1:30 p.m. The championship game is at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
On the women’s side, Lynchburg (Va.) plays Illinois Wesleyan at 5 p.m. and Johns Hopkins (Md.) plays Williams (Mass.) at 7:30 p.m. The title game is at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
▪ Benedictine advanced to the NAIA women’s quarterfinals Monday in Orange Beach, Ala., with a 3-1 penalty-kick victory over Spring Arbor (Mich.).
The ninth-seeded Ravens, 19-1-1, played No. 8 seed Spring Arbor to a 1-1 draw after two overtimes and will next face No. 1 Embry-Riddle (Fla.), 18-1-0, at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
▪ In the NAIA men’s tournament in Delray Beach, Fla., No. 5 Missouri Valley lost 6-5 in penalty kicks to Northwestern Ohio after playing to a 1-1 draw after two overtimes. Later Monday night, No. 10 MidAmerica Nazarene faced Marymount (Calif.) for a spot in the quarterfinals.