Photos credit: Jason Evans
Six straight 20-win seasons, 5 straight regular-season Summit League titles and five straight NCAA appearances have made Denver volleyball one of DU’s best-performing programs. However, despite all the recent success, this season’s Denver Volleyball squad (21-7, 13-3 Summit League) has been on a ‘roller coaster ride” according to head coach Tom Hogan.
The team graduated stars Becca Latham and Emma Willis along with serious season-ending injuries to outside hitter Taylor Joachim and to their best-returning player, outside hitter Katarina Marinkovic. So, head coach Tom Hogan called for patience earlier this season for his reconfigured squad: “Everything we need to improve at is within our control. It’s just going to take some time”. That patience and persistence have paid off as Denver finished the regular season playing their best volleyball of the season.
Earlier in the season, at their low point, the team skidded to four losses in five non-conference matches.
But, as the season progressed, they began improving, especially on the offensive end, match-by-match. And, as predicted, Hogan’s squad is finally peaking at just the right time following a weekend sweep of Omaha at Hamilton gym and a road finale sweep against Western Illinois. After Friday night’s Omaha win, Hogan claimed, “We played our most complete match tonight of the season.”
And top-seeded South Dakota? “They’re good…really good,” according to Hogan.
South Dakota stole the Summit League regular season top spot from DU and has reeled off 24 consecutive wins since falling to Iowa State. The Coyotes earned an impressive win over Iowa and coasted to a 16-0 record in conference play. Ironically, their undefeated conference record is the same as Denver’s last season when the same Coyote squad upset Denver in the Summit League volleyball championship finals in Denver. (DU’s Katarina Marinkovic sustained a serious injury during the match and DU never recovered).
And, while the second-seeded Pioneers settled into second place behind a red-hot South Dakota squad, Denver may have improved enough to seriously challenge the Coyotes, especially at Hamilton Gym. Since falling to South Dakota November 3rd this season, the Pioneers have reeled off four consecutive 3-0 conference sweeps and are gaining confidence with each match.
At the Summit League volleyball championships beginning this week, the Pioneers will play the winner of the No. 3 Purdue Fort Wayne (17-13, 11-5 Summit League) vs No. 6 Oral Roberts (8-22, 4-12 Summit League) match on Saturday at 6 p.m. MT. Then, the Summit League championship match is scheduled for Sunday at 2 p.m. MT with the champion earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Can the Pioneers ‘return the favor’ this weekend? Well, time will tell but a victory in the finals in Denver is DU’s only path to return to their 6th straight NCAA playoff appearance.
And a full, loud Hamilton Gym would help.