John Fanta/Assistant Sports Editor
When the Seton Hall volleyball team arrived at the Richie Regan Athletic Center on the night of Sunday, Nov. 30 to watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, the Pirates had perplexed looks on their faces.
The Hall was coming off a dissatisfying weekend after the blue and white took down Marquette in a five-set marathon in the Big East semifinals in Milwaukee before falling to Creighton, who the Pirates had swept in the regular season, in the championship game. That left Seton Hall's fate up to the NCAA Tournament committee. The Pirates had never known what the tournament felt like.
"What happens during this show?" redshirt senior Simona Sekulova asked. "If we get in, what do we do?" several players said.
As the telecast began on ESPNU, the Pirates sat and waited for over a half hour. Two regions were announced, with one Big East team being announced, the champion Bluejays. The question was whether the Big East would get some respect as the third of four regions was being announced, and if so, SHU had two wins each against the fellow top teams in Creighton and Marquette.
After a match-up between 11th-seed Arizona and Yale was announced, the unprecedented moment came. Jaws dropped and eyes opened wide as a Thursday night first round match-up in the desert of Tucson, Ariz., was announced between the Pirates and Brigham Young University (BYU), giving SHU its first berth in "The Big Dance" in the program's history.
"We came in hoping that the NCAA was going to give us a chance," senior All-Big East first team selection Shelbey Manthorpe said. "I think we showed in Milwaukee that we could compete on the big stage, especially when we beat Marquette in the semis in their own gym."
Seton Hall's three All-Big East First Team selections were the most in the conference, as Shelbey Manthorpe was joined by her twin sister, Stacey, and Big East Libero of the Year Tessa Fournier. The Pirates had a second-teamer in Amanda Hansen, who has anchored a spot in the Hall's front line.
"The key to this team is that everybody has to contribute for us to win," Stacey Manthorpe said.
The Pirates will need all hands on deck when they take on 25-4 BYU, a program that has made the regional semifinals in each of the last two seasons.
"BYU definitely plays at a different style and pace than what we are used to," second-year head coach Allison Yaeger said. "We have to get our hitters going because I think we can have an edge on their defense. Offensively, they have some good hitters, though. If our defense performs, I like our chances."
Thursday night has the potential to be a "block party" in Tucson.
Amanda Boyer/Photography Editor
Seton Hall led the Big East in blocks per set with 3.02. There will be three top-15 blockers on the floor, as BYU has the top two statistically in the country with Whitney Young (1.93 blocks per set), the West Coast Conference's Defensive Player of the Year, and Amy Boswell (1.67 per set).
The two teams have some of the more elite opponent hitting percentage in the country, as BYU is atop the WCC with a .144 percentage to the Pirates' .157. Leading SHU's standout defense is the 14th-ranked blocker in the country, Ashani Rubin (1.44 blocks per set).
A senior, Rubin has given the Pirates a boost with Hansen, who is 46th in the country with 1.27 blocks per set, up front throughout the season.
Fournier has charged a defense that averages 17.88 digs per set, the best in the Big East. She is averaging 5.43 per set, the only Big East player to average more than five.
Seton Hall will have the task of containing WCC Player of the Year Alexa Gray, who has been an all-conference first-team selection in three straight seasons. Gray averages 4.11 kills per set, which is second in the conference.
BYU leads their league in hitting percentage at .286, but the Cougars' attacking has some flaws. BYU is just eighth in assists in the WCC with 12.17 per set and sixth in kills with 13.21.
Shelbey Manthorpe averages 10.16 per set (1,310 on the season) and Stacey has 3.58 kills per set. The senior duo has combined to form arguably the greatest duo in the history of the program. They have compiled 660 kills together, with Shelbey primarily setting up Stacey for 462 of those.
The Pirates' opposite outside hitter spot has been a question mark at times, but junior Molly Grammer looks to do what she did in the Big East semifinals against Marquette last week. Grammer finished with a career-high 17 kills in the 3-2 win. ?Junior Dani Schroeder has also contributed solidly as the season has gone on, averaging 2.39 kills per set.
With two elite blocking teams meeting and two attackers in Gray and Stacey Manthorpe, this meeting has an intriguing factor.
"We've never seen them and they've never seen us," Yaeger said. "We have to do the little things right. There is little room for error on this stage. I'm so proud of these girls and I know their potential. Now we have to show it."
The Pirates arrived to Arizona on Wednesday, Dec. 3 and will hold a noon practice in advance of the big game. The ball will fly at 6 p.m. ET in the desert between the Pirates and Cougars, with the regional quarterfinal scheduled for Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. ET between the winner of the SHU-BYU match and the Arizona-Yale contest.
?John Fanta can be reached at email@example.com or at @John_Fanta on twitter.