Update: The St. Ambrose Fighting Bees have advanced to the semifinals of the NAIA National Volleyball Invitational for a third straight year and will take the floor at the P.E. Center at 4 p.m. Friday with a chance to move on to the championship game for a second straight year.
The top-seeded Bees (32-2) will face No. 5 seed Missouri Baptist in the semifinal round. The Spartans (17-14) fell in three sets Friday morning to No. 4 Park and finished 1-1 and as runner-up in Pool B.
Thursday night, the Bees battled to their third five-set win of the year over Iowa rival Graceland, the tournament's No. 3 seed. On Thursday afternoon, Coach Bill Gleeson's team, which spent all but two weeks of the season ranked first in the nation, avenged one of its losses by besting Warner (Fla.) in four sets. The Bees dropped the first set in a 29-27 marathon but rallied to win the last three.
Two-time All-American hitter Dan Dowjotas led the Bees with 38 kills in Thursday's two matches.
The championship match of the six-team tourney will be played Saturday at 7 p.m. Second-seeded Hope International was eliminated with a pair of pool play losses on Thursday. Park will await the winner of Friday afternoon's final pool-play contest, pitting Thursday's SAU victims Warner and Graceland. They will play in tonight's second semifinal at 7 p.m.
St. Ambrose Men's Volleyball Team Gets ready For Nationals
'St. Ambrose Men's Volleyball Team Gets ready For Nationals' (News Channel 8 interview)
It started in 2010 with what Bill Gleeson '05 described as "chirping" in the ears of his St. Ambrose Fighting Bees men's volleyball team about a rare opportunity to win a national title on their home floor.
Last year, when the Bees battled to a runner-up finish before raucous record crowds at the NAIA National Invitational Tournament at the P.E. Center, the chirping got a little louder.
Come April, however, the Bees and the Lee Lohman Loonies are ready to really make some noise.
On April 12-14, the Bees will end a three-year run as national tourney host, as well as a season they mostly spent perched atop the national rankings, by attempting to win the first team national title in St. Ambrose athletic history.
"I'm not trying to put too much pressure on them because they have been getting it from their families, their friends and a lot of people here at St. Ambrose," said Gleeson, a former Bees volleyball standout who has won 75 percent of his games since assuming the head coaching reins in 2007.
Pressure? The top-ranked Bees don't mind.
"We have been building toward this year for quite some time," said junior middle hitter Kyle Schwetz, one of five starters returning from last year's national runners-up and, along with senior outside hitter Dan Dowjotas, one of two returning All-American players. "I think this is our year and I think we have a great talent base. Our fan base is awesome too and I think we can bring it home this year."
Gleeson said record turnouts the past two national tournaments were a key reason the Bees were able to secure an unusual third straight year as tourney host. His players said student-led crowds that gently could be described as enthusiastic helped fuel last year's run to a title match vs. then top-ranked California Baptist University.
The Bees were swept in three hard-fought sets in that match, but Schwetz said the players learned from the experience.
"I don't think we really knew what to think," he said. "We had never been in that situation before and were up against a really high-caliber team. I think we just kind of shut it down toward the end."
But it did whet their appetite for this year's opportunity.
"It's going to be a great experience," said Dowjotas, a two-time All-American and the SAU career leader in kills. "We've got a younger team, but the five starters are definitely ready to play this one. I feel like we've got a much better team than last year."
Gleeson, who was named 2011 National Coach of the Year, said the Bees are prepared for the pressure of expectations by having worn the No. 1 ranking for the biggest portion of the year.
And Schwetz said tournament foes had better be ready for the Lohman Loonies.
"Our fans are out of control," he said. "They are awesome. Great energy. It's a huge advantage."
The NAIA National Tournament Schedule is as follows:
Thursday, April 12
10 a.m. Hope International vs. Missouri Baptist
12:30 p.m. St. Ambrose vs. Warner
4 p.m. Hope International vs. Park
7 p.m. Ambrose vs. Graceland
Friday, April 13
10 a.m. Park vs. Missouri Baptist
12:30 p.m. Graceland vs. Warner
4 p.m. Semi 1 - Winner Pool A vs Second Pool B
7 p.m Semi 2 - Winner Pool B vs Second Pool A
Saturday, April 14
7 p.m. Championship