It was a season of “firsts” for the Point Park University volleyball team in the fall of 2011.
The Pioneers made it to the NAIA national tournament for the first time in program history, and it was the first time that a Point Park women’s sport made it to nationals. Also, the Pioneers played the first-ever varsity athletic contest at the on-campus Student Center Gym, their new home court.
The Pioneers had an overall record of 36-6 to rank first in total wins in school history, and they won their first conference title when they took home the American Mideast Conference Tournament championship.
The volleyball team hopes these “firsts” are just a sign of things to come. For several years now, the program has achieved success on the conference level with AMC playoff appearances in five of the last six years. But 2011 was the first time the Pioneers broke through to the national stage.
“The toughest thing to do is build a tradition,” said volleyball head coach Mike Bruno, who has been at Point Park for seven years. “It was a great experience for our ladies to break through to the national tournament, and they got a taste of what it is like to get there.
“I credit the ladies we have now who have worked hard to lay the foundation of what we hope is a long-standing tradition.”
The Pioneers had some high-end talent with AVCA-NAIA All-Northeast Region performers Lindsey Oberacker (OH), Brittany Lhota (RS) and Tayler Pugliese (S). Oberacker was NAIA Honorable Mention All-American and the AMC Player of the Year. She was joined on the All-AMC First Team by Lhota, AMC Setter of the Year Pugliese and middle hitter Nicole Wurstle.
Point Park also had veteran talent on defense with Amanda Ardinger, Margaret Gillooly and Alyssa Hall holding down the back row for the third year in a row. The Pioneers will welcome virtually their whole team back in 2012 with Rachel Stedina and Cassandra Maxwell being the only seniors lost.
By making it to the NAIA tournament, the Pioneers were among the final 36 teams in the national-championship field. They were never able to crack the Top 25 national rankings during the regular season, but that’s something they can add to their to-do list next year. In any case, Point Park took steps toward making a name for itself in NAIA volleyball.
“We were fortunate to be among the final 36 teams in the country, and we hope to build on that in the future,” said Bruno, the 2011 AVCA Northeast Region Coach of the Year. “We aspire to be among the nationally ranked programs in the NAIA.”
Point Park earned its NAIA national bid by winning the AMC Tournament followed by a victory over Holy Names (Calif.) in an Unaffiliated Group Championship Match at the Student Center Gym.
Fan support among students, parents and friends was at an all-time high for the AMC Tournament and the Unaffiliated Match. The Student Center Gym opened in the fall of 2010 and became available for home volleyball matches in the fall of 2011.
“It was wonderful for our ladies to be able to compete at an on-campus facility in front of the campus community. That is something that had never happened before because we didn’t have our own gym.”
Text by Kevin Taylor, director of athletic communications
Photo by Lyddia Ankrom
The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University