By Mason Nesbitt, TMU Sports Information Director
The launch of a women’s volleyball tournament for the Golden State Athletic Conference last season has produced a striking shift in the way Master’s coach Allan Vince views 2018.
Where once he felt his team needed headline-grabbing victories during non-conference play to earn a berth in the NAIA national tournament, he now sees another path.
With a strong showing during the GSAC’s regular season, his team can qualify for the conference tournament where an automatic bid to nationals is on the line.
“That’s a game-changer,” Vince said.
The Mustangs’ 2018 schedule reflects that mindset.
Last season, Master’s played in a tournament hosted by Columbia College (Mo.) in mid-October, during a break from GSAC play. By then, the Mustangs were more prepared to play in the high-level tournament, but the three games didn’t necessarily do anything to boost their confidence against conference opponents.
Vince hopes that by playing in an earlier Columbia tournament this season, this one in late August, it will help players develop before crucial GSAC matches in September, October and November.
The competition will remain brutal.
In Columbia, Master’s will face Park University (Mo.), Missouri Baptist University, Columbia College and Lindsey Wilson College (Ky.). Three of those schools finished in the top six of the NAIA’s 2017 postseason poll. Lindsey Wilson went 35-0 and won the national championship.
“It allows us to see how we play against some of the best teams in the country without the pressure of saying, ‘If we lose, then we lose any opportunity to be nationally ranked, therefore we’ll never go to the playoffs,'” Vince said.
Vince would like to use Columbia’s Hampton Inn Classic to evaluate his roster and try different player combinations.
“It allows us to see who our primary horses are early – to see who can play against these teams,” Vince said. “And it allows us to not have the pressure of putting one roster out to hopefully get nationally ranked through a win or a loss. We’re able to try more athletes, knowing that that’s not the end-all for our season. Instead, it allows us to say, ‘OK, moving into conference I can trust these athletes.'”
Master’s finished 11-17 last season. It returns six of its seven kill leaders, an all-conference-caliber setter and has added a talented freshman class.
The Mustangs open 2018 on Aug. 15 at the Hope Summer Slam in Fullerton, Calif. They begin GSAC play on Sept. 7 on the road against new GSAC foe Ottawa University Arizona in Surprise, Ariz.