Ashland University's volleyball team has accomplished goal No. 1 in 2016 – get into the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament.
The next steps can be accomplished in the last two regular-season weekend matches, both at Kates Gymnasium - Senior Night against Wayne State on Friday (Nov. 11) at 7 p.m. and Parents Day vs. Findlay on Saturday (Nov. 12) at 2 p.m. At 19-9 overall and 10-5 in the GLIAC, the Eagles have the opportunity to play host to a GLIAC Tournament quarterfinal on Wednesday (Nov. 16) at 7 p.m., as well as possibly make an NCAA Division II postseason appearance for the first time since 2013.
Ashland was No. 8 in the second set of D-II Midwest Regional rankings released on Wednesday (Nov. 9). The top eight teams in each region advance to the postseason.
Findlay is leading the GLIAC South Division at 20-7, 12-3. Wayne State is tied with the Eagles for second in the South at 19-8, 10-5, and will play at Tiffin on Thursday (Nov. 10). Going into the final regular-season weekend, four teams, including AU, are tied for the No. 3-6 spots in the tournament.
"Two through eight, it's anybody's game, at this point and time," Ashland head coach Cass Dixon said. "We've been stressing the importance of one, we're home, and two, we control what happens to us. So we've been working really hard on being able to control the game more so we can control the outcome.
"It would be really nice to not be on the road. I'm glad that we're in the conference tournament. I'm glad that we've been able to establish that already. We decide whether or not we are at home or away."
Ashland is coming off a 3-0 loss at No. 5-ranked Wheeling Jesuit on Tuesday (Nov. 8), snapping the team's nine-match winning streak.
"Wheeling's a great team," Dixon said. "They do a really good job of playing great defense and putting the ball back on your side and getting into system as fast as they can. We played with them point-for-point, especially in sets 1 and 3. We controlled what we could control in that game."
Friday's match against the Warriors will be Senior Night, where Ashland's trio of seniors – outside hitter Casey Clark, right-side hitter Alli Cudworth and setter Mallory Slyder – will be honored. Clark is the second 1,000-1,000 (kills-digs) player in Eagle history, Cudworth can be the third with 51 more digs and Slyder was Ashland's setter in 2015 after transferring from IPFW.
"It's amazing to me how fast four years have gone," Dixon said. "I still see Alli and Casey sitting in my office before they made their decisions. They've been such an integral part of this program for the past four years. Ashland has always been a strong program, but they've really helped to put us on a national level.
"And then you add Mallory into that, coming into the program, she's done a phenomenal job of coming in and being able to bring not only her setting abilities, but just who she is as a person, too. It's going to be bittersweet."
One of the unsung positions for the Eagles during their recent winning streak was middle blocker, where sophomore Reanne Neal (team-high 87 total blocks, .209 hitting percentage, 32 service aces) and freshman Sophi Cudworth (62 total blocks, .201 hitting percentage) have more-than-capably manned the position.
"They really have been putting up some good numbers offensively," said Dixon. "Even though it may not look like on the stats that they are blocking a ton of balls, they've been blocking a fair amount of balls, but they are setting up our defense very nicely, and allowing our defenders to play behind them."
The Eagles are 8-0 at Kates Gymnasium in 2016, and have won 20 of their last 23 home matches.