By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian
Turkey. Stuffing. Cranberry relish. Mashed potatoes. And of course pumpkin pie.
At the beginning of the season, these were just some of the many items that the Fairmont State volleyball team included on a Thanksgiving menu. The way the Falcons figured, if they had a successful season they would be playing in late November and early December and wouldn’t be home for the holiday.
As it turned out, the NCAA tournament has been pushed back, and the team will, in fact, get to travel home for the Thanksgiving. Still, the point behind the menu remains: Fairmont State is hungry for the post-season.
“It was kind of a goal that we set that we are going to be here (at Fairmont State) for Thanksgiving,” senior outside hitter Bri Swann said. “If we don’t make it to the tournament, then we’re not here for Thanksgiving.”
Barring any major upsets in the Mountain East Conference tournament, Fairmont State (25-6, 13-3 MEC) should make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998 on Dec. 5-7.
But before they do, the second-seeded Falcons will get their first taste of the playoffs today when they travel to Wheeling to face seventh-seeded Concord in the Mountain East Conference quarterfinal. The match is set for 2:30 p.m.
Fairmont State rolled past Concord in four sets earlier this season; however, the team says it knows better than to overlook an MEC foe. Just a few weeks ago, the Falcons fell in three sets to Shepherd, a match which the team considers a defining moment in the season.
“It was one of those times when you have to make a decision. Are we going to refuse to let this get us down and come back strong? Or are we going to roll over?” Fairmont State volleyball coach Larry Hill said. “Basically they’ve decided that they’re coming back strong."
After the loss, the Falcons responded by beating Glenville State and West Liberty in three sets before falling in the season finale at Wheeling Jesuit.
The Falcons may have a shot at revenge this weekend, but it won’t be an easy task. The Cardinals (31-5) earned the top seed in the MEC tournament after finishing with a perfect record in MEC play. They are also ranked first in the Atlantic region and 25th nationally.
“We want to be the team that hangs that first loss on them,” Hill said. “We feel that if we get another opportunity to play them Saturday, things could be different.”
If there ever was a season in which the Falcons could knock off a powerhouse, this is the year.
The team has been in the making for three seasons. Two years ago, the team had just two seniors. Then last year, the it had none.
The current seniors— Swann, Leslie Giordon, Katherin Herrera and Amber Wilson — have had to lead for the last three seasons. They recognize that they need to capitalize on their experiences this post-season.
“A lot of the girls have understood that this will be the year,” Swann said.
“This team is one of the top three teams that we’ve had,” he said, placing the team in the same sentence with the 1990 team that won 42 matches and the 1998 team that made an NCAA tournament appearance.
Hill, who admitted with a laugh that “the first volleyball game I saw was one I coached,” has led the volleyball team at Fairmont State for three decades. He said the similarities between his best teams extend well past the box scores.
“They have a lot of similar characteristics,” he said. “They have a lot of camaraderie. Everyone supports each other. Those are the teams that are really cohesive and could accomplish a lot.”
Email Mike DeFabo at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.