With a regular-season title hanging in the balance, James Madison senior Jamey Goodman came up big in a southern swing earlier this month.
She had 33 kills at College of Charleston in a 3-2 win on Nov. 3 and then two days later came through with 30 kills at UNC Wilmington in another 3-2 victory.
“She is playing the best volleyball of her career right now,” said Lauren Steinbrecher, the head coach of JMU.
JMU went on to win the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season title and will get a bye when the conference tournament begins Friday at UNCW. That bye could be big, as Steinbrecher expects a lot of five-set matches this weekend.
“Goodman was just unstoppable,” said Jason Kepner, the College of Charleston head coach. “Being her senior year she took it upon herself to put the team on her shoulders and carry them.”
The Dukes (11-5 in the CAA) have won eight matches in a row and will play on Saturday at 2 p.m. in the semifinals against the winner of No. 4 Hofstra (10-6) and No. 5 Delaware (10-6). Five CAA teams won at least 10 conference games this year.
“The conference has been crazy (good) to me,” Goodman said.
No. 2 seed College of Charleston (10-6) will play in the semifinals on Saturday at 5 p.m. against the winner of Northeastern and Delaware.
Dayton is the top seed in the Atlantic 10 after going 14-0 in conference play.
The Flyers will open play on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in the semifinals against the winner of Duquesne and VCU. No. 2 seed Rhode Island plays Saturday at 6 p.m. against the winner of Saint Louis and Davidson. George Washington hosted the 2015 tournament as Dayton won its second straight conference title.
Tim Horsmon returned as the Dayton head coach after the 2013 season. He had spent the previous six years at Maryland and before that led the Flyers from 2003-07.
The Flyers do not have any seniors this year but were aided by the 17th-best recruiting class in the country, according to Horsmon. “We had five great seniors last year,” Horsmon said.
He has seen Rhode Island and VCU improve their programs in recent years. “They are well coached. They are really good on both ends,” he said of URI.
Saint Louis is paced by Danielle Rygelski, a senior hitter who led the conference in kills in 2015 and was a seven-time conference player of the week this year. “She could play anywhere,” Horsmon said.
UD sophomore libero Margo Wolf said underclassmen have stepped up for the Flyers.
“Having no seniors is pretty difficult. People had to step up in new roles,” Wolf said. “We had to work harder.”
The same could be said of JMU, an annual contender in the CAA.
UNC-W beat College of Charleston 3-0 for the 2015 title, hosted by JMU. The Dukes were knocked out in the semifinals by the Cougars 3-2.
“There is a lot more planning and work” as the host, JMU coach Steinbrecher said. “On the road it is just our team at the hotel.”
“I think playing away is going to be great this year,” Goodman said. “When we go into someone else’s gym we have to make it our gym. I think playing at UNC-W will be great.”
JMU is also paced by Tyler Austin, a junior defensive specialist from Ashburn, Va. “She is second in the country in digs per set. She is a sparkplug leader,” Steinbrecher said.
The CAA is ranked eighth among conferences, according to RealTimeRPI.com, while the Atlantic 10 comes in at 18th in the nation among Division I conferences.
The CAA has five teams in the top 100 and seven teams in the top 110 and that includes UNC-W, which did not qualify for the conference tournament.
“Last year we had a four-way tie for first. This year we had a four-way tie for second. It has been two years of high level volleyball. It has been a really good year for the CAA. I think everyone did a good job of scheduling” outside of the conference, Kepner said.