It's a return trip to the NCAA Division II postseason for Ashland University's volleyball team.
The Eagles (23-10) were chosen as an at-large entry for the D-II Midwest Regional, and will be its No. 6 seed. Ashland's first-round opponent will be No. 3-seeded Lewis (25-7).
"It's great," said Ashland head coach Cass Dixon, whose Eagles will play in the D-II postseason for the first time since 2013. "This is why you play, this is what you play for. The goal is to win a national championship. It feels really good to be back in the national tournament. The girls have put a lot of work into it, especially the second half of the season."
No. 1-seed Ferris State (28-5) will play host to the regional. The Bulldogs draw No. 8 Truman State (18-16). The rest of the Midwest features No. 4 Rockhurst (27-6) vs. No. 5 Saginaw Valley State (19-11) and No. 2 Findlay (21-9) vs. No. 7 Cedarville (26-8).
Ashland will go into the regional tournament having won 13 of its last 15 matches, with the only two losses in that stretch coming to No. 1 regional seeds Wheeling Jesuit and FSU.
"That's what we talked about in the locker room (after the selection show)," Dixon said. "Over the last 15 matches, we've only had two losses, and one is to the fourth-ranked team in the country and the other is to the 15th-ranked team in the country. There's no doubt we can compete to make it to the Elite 8."
A 64-team tournament (top eight teams from each of eight regions), the Division II postseason will begin on Dec. 1, and the national championship match will be Dec. 10 at 5 p.m. at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Of the long break between the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament and the regional tourney, Dixon said, "I try to look at the positives of it. Our season's long. It will be good for the girls to go home and get a refresher and get time with family and prepare mentally for what lies ahead for us."
In the Midwest Region, automatic qualifiers came from the GLIAC (Ferris State), Great Lakes Valley Conference (Truman State) and Great Midwest Athletic Conference (Cedarville). The other five teams were chosen as at-large entries.
Ashland went from ninth to eighth to sixth in the three D-II Midwest Regional rankings prior to Monday night's selection.
The Eagles will make their seventh D-II postseason appearance, all since 2004. AU is 5-6 all-time at the Midwest Regional, and this will be the first time Ashland will play a regional game in Big Rapids, Mich.
For Eagle senior outside hitters Alli Cudworth and Casey Clark, both of whom were freshmen on the 2013 postseason team and who each reached the 1,000 kills-1,000 digs threshold this fall, this season is a chance at redemption.
"It's definitely exciting, seeing that we've made so much progress," Cudworth said. "Our freshman year, there's a legacy that we had a lot of mature older players who were able to lead us to the NCAA Tournament. We thought that was just something that happens. Over the years, we realized that it's not easy. We've worked hard. We've changed our program for the better."
"We were just saying, our freshman year, we really didn't understand it," Clark said. "We go to NCAAs, we're in conference finals. We realized it's actually really hard, and it's not a given. Coming this far is a blessing.
"We're really proving that we deserve to be in the regional. All these wins, they're not a fluke. We're good, and we're proving it right now."