“Wow...I'm not sure what to say,” said Lady Bisons coach Brandon Rosenthal. “Being placed in the top 35 is a well deserved honor for these girls. There is no doubt that they have continued to raise the bar and after this weekend there is no telling what their limit is.
“I am so proud of this team and program, just think that the highest RPI that we had ever achieved was near 115 and the highest RPI for the conference for the past four or five years was probably near 75. Needless to say this is a lot of fun to be a part of this season.”
The Lady Bisons are taking a few days off after winning the Atlantic Sun Tournament Championship Saturday afternoon with a sweep of host Florida Gulf Coast in Fort Myers, Fla. The Lady Bisons have won 25 straight matches, putting them in the top five in the country in win streaks. They finished Atlantic Sun competition with a 22-0 record and are 28-3 overall.
For several hours Monday night Rosenthal was out of the reach of any communication technology. When he was finally able to use his cell phone again he was amazed how many people had heard about the team being No. 34.
“It's interesting how much the team and our fans have gotten into this,” said Rosenthal. “Due to travel plans I was unable to be near a computer when the newest RPI came out. But when I landed I had nearly 15 texts from players and fans that were interested in what the new ranking was or players who had found it themselves. These players and fans truly believe in this program and each and every day you can see it more and more.”
The Lady Bisons, making their second trip to the NCAA Tournament in the past three years, are hopeful that the high ranking will result in a higher seeding. An NCAA Selection Show party will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sunday in the Shamblin Theater in the Bennett Student Center.
“At this point there are still a lot of questions as to where and who we will play and that is why Sunday will be such an exciting day,” said Rosenthal. “I think that with the new RPI the chances of playing closer to home have gone up. That is a great feeling because we have had a lot of fans that are anxious to make travel plans.
“There is a true following now and that is such a great feeling. As I have talked many times with this team, and the other teams that came before, we have a quote in our locker room that reads "The only thing you deserve is what you earn". Well this team has earned every bit of this. We have never looked for handouts and this is just another indication of what hard work will bring you.”
In addition to the No. 34 ranking, the Lady Bisons remain high in the rankings in several categories in NCAA Division I. They are tied with Texas A & M in kills per set with 14.90, though the NCAA has Texas A & M ranked first and the Lady Bisons rated second.
The Lady Bisons are fourth in assists per set with 13.92. They are seventh in won-loss percentage with a .903 success rate.
They are 16th in hitting percentage with a .297 and 17th in digs per set with 17.42.
Individually, junior setter Stefine “Jake” Pease is eighth in assists per set with 11.91.
Junior middle hitter Alex Kelly is 12th in points per set with 5.12. She is 17th in kills per set with 4.4. She is also 35th in hitting percentage with a .361.
Senior opposite Erin Pierce is 46th in service aces per set with .40.
Rosenthal is in his seventh season as the head coach. He has seen the team improve its win total each season and finish with 20 or more wins for the third straight season. In addition to the tournament championship, the Lady Bisons are also the 2009 Atlantic Sun regular season champion.
“When I took over the program seven years ago our ranking was near 315, so to be 34th is truly amazing,” said Rosenthal. “Each and every one of these girls who have ever come though our program has come under the impression that they had a chance to be a part of something special. And every one of them has left this program at a better point than when they started.
"That's success. It’s not necessarily the titles and the newest RPI but the fact that this program has never stopped moving in the right direction. The women of this program, past and present, have made it happen. They should be proud, all of them.”