Provided by: Wayland Baptist University
The 19th-ranked Pioneers squeaked into the 34th annual NAIA Volleyball National Championships as the eighth and final at-large qualifier in the 36-team event. It's the first time in program history Wayland has qualified for nationals.
"I'm tickled to death," Pioneers coach Jim Giacomazzi said. "It's something no other volleyball team has been able to do. I'm happy for the girls and happy for the university.
"What will make it more impressive is backing it up with some (national tournament) wins."
The Pioneers (30-6) will be one of 24 teams involved in opening-round matches next Saturday that will be played at campus sites. Wayland has submitted a bid to host. The 12 opening-round winners, as well as national tournament site host Briar Cliff (Iowa) and the top 11 seeded-schools that earn opening-round byes, advance to the national championship site in Sioux City, Iowa, for play Dec. 3-7.
The pairings for the opening-round matches will be released at noon Monday via a live graphical presentation on www.naia.org.
The 36 national tournament teams include 27 automatic qualifiers – awarded to teams that either won or were runners-up in their conference/independent tournament or regular season – eight at-large bids and the host berth earned by Briar Cliff. The at-large berths were determined by the final NAIA Volleyball Coaches' Top 25 Poll released earlier today.
Wayland remained at 19th after finishing as the runner-up in the Sooner Athletic Conference Tournament, falling to No. 7 Oklahoma Baptist in four in Saturday's championship in Shawnee, Okla.
It didn't matter to Giacomazzi that Wayland just made it into the national tournament field.
"We're in, and that's all the matters," he said. "Now we've got to make preparations as if we're hosting (a first-round match), and hopefully that will be the next challenge that we have. Now we see how far we can go into the playoffs."
Giacomazzi feels the Pioneers have a great chance to travel to Iowa and make some noise.
"We're not satisfied with just going to the playoffs; we want to win in the playoffs. That's something we've talked about extensively," he said. "Getting there is not good enough. We want to win matches."
The coach said the Pioneers should be at full strength for nationals, with Mackenzie Clark, who has missed the last three matches with a concussion, possibly cleared to return on Tuesday.
"I'm pretty confident that this team will be successful in getting out of pool play and moving through the playoffs," Giacomazzi said.
The 24 teams who advance to Sioux City will be divided into six, four-team pools and play single matches Dec. 3-5. The top two teams in each pool qualify for single-elimination bracket play on Dec. 6 and 7.
"We work hard and have talented people on our team," as do the other national tournament teams, Giacomazzi said. "I feel like we've played one of the most competitive schedules in my time (at Wayland). Five of our six losses are against teams in the top 11 in the nation."
Wayland is one of five teams making their first national tournament appearance, along with Park (Mo.), Midland (Neb.), Lourdes (Ohio) and Cardinal Stritch (Wis.).
Giacomazzi said the Pioneers will celebrate their national tournament berth for the rest of today, then it's time to refocus.
"They get to enjoy the accomplishments they've received as a result of their hard work then tomorrow we start to work.
"Now," he said, "we do damage."