Brandon Rosenthal is taking a different approach — one that he hopes will bring different and more satisfactory results.
The Lipscomb volleyball coach isn’t trying to downplay the Bisons’ third trip to the NCAA Tournament in the last four years. He just wants to avoid overdoing it as Lipscomb prepares to play Ohio State in the opening round Friday in Dayton, Ohio.
“It is really easy to get overhyped, watch five times as much video and really this year we’ve tried to keep our normal routine,” Rosenthal said. “Sunday we found out and [Monday] we took a day off. Probably not a whole lot of teams did that but it is kind of our attempt to really try to keep everything as normal as possible.
“This is the third time we have been there and both times we came out really flat. So this is one of our attempts right now to change the pace up and go at it a different way. We’ve got a real senior-laden team, so if we don’t know it by now we shouldn’t be here.”
Lipscomb (24-6) will be trying to advance out of the first round for the first time in school history. The Bisons lost to Dayton in 2007 and California last season — both matches were also in Ohio.
Lipscomb rolls into the tournament on an eight-match winning streak, including sweeping the Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season and tournament titles.
The Bisons aren’t on a long layoff either. The past two times they reached the postseason, there was nearly two weeks between the last match of the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament and the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
This year, however, Rosenthal squashed that as he scheduled Xavier on Saturday at Allen Arena. Lipscomb not only won the tough test in five games but also got some much needed competition.
“That was probably one of the better games we have played all year,” Lipscomb’s senior middle blocker Alex Kelly said. “I think good competition a couple days before is really going to show during the match [against Ohio State].”
• Lipscomb not alone: The Bisons won’t be the only area team in the NCAA volleyball tournament.
Middle Tennessee and Austin Peay also will be in first-round matches on Friday. MTSU is in its fifth straight tournament after going 29-5 and winning the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship this fall. The Blue Raiders will play Louisville in a regional at Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind. The two schools also met in the tournament in 2006 and 2007 with MTSU winning both times.
Austin Peay is 26-7 and won its first Ohio Valley Conference championship in 19 years. The Lady Govs will travel to Champaign, Ill. to play host and No. 8 seed Illinois. Austin Peay is led by first-year head coach Haley Janicek, who is just 23 years old.
• Family affair: One Nashville family will be spread all over the Midwest this weekend watching volleyball.
Steve and Sarah Mullins’ two daughters — Marie and Ellen — are both playing in the NCAA Tournament this weekend, for different schools.
Marie is a junior setter at Austin Peay. Sarah will make the trip to Champaign to watch Marie play and she will be joined by Martha Teegarden, whose daughter, Emily, plays for Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers will play Cincinnati in the same regional and Emily and Marie both played at Father Ryan.
Meanwhile, Steve and his second-oldest daughter Ann will be in Bloomington, Ind. to watch Ellen play for Tennessee. Ellen, a freshman who also went to Father Ryan, and the Lady Vols play Alabama A&M in the first round.
It will be the first time Steve and Sarah have had a daughter in the NCAA Tournament since Ann played at Lipscomb three years ago. Ann, who now coaches volleyball at Siegel High School in Murfreesboro, also played on Tennessee’s 2004 Sweet 16 team before transferring to Lipscomb.
“For all three of them to play in the Big Dance, it is pretty gratifying,” Steve Mullins said. “Just knowing how much work they have put into it, it has just been superb. We are really excited.”
• MTSU’s bowl hopes still alive, barely: With a win on Saturday at Florida International, Middle Tennessee State would become bowl eligible for the second straight season. That doesn’t mean, however, that the Blue Raiders (5-6) are guaranteed a spot in a bowl.
Still, if MTSU knocks off the Panthers, who have clinched their first Sun Belt Conference championship, it could find itself in a familiar position — the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
The Blue Raiders defeated Southern Mississippi 42-32 last year in the New Orleans Bowl to cap off a 10-3 season. This year, MTSU began the season 3-6 but has won its last two games to remain bowl eligible.
Florida International and Troy — both 6-5 — are bowl eligible and most likely will receive berths. The Sun Belt has guaranteed spots in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 18 and the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Jan. 6 in Mobile, Ala.
Plus, the Sun Belt has an agreement with the Little Caesars Bowl on Dec. 26 in Detroit that if the Big Ten Conference can’t fill its spot in the bowl, then the Sun Belt will be offered the bid. That could happen as the Big Ten will most likely have two teams in BCS bowls, leaving the league with six bowl-eligible teams to fill seven bowls.
Speculation is that Florida International would be sent to the Little Caesars Bowl, Troy would stay close to home and play in the GoDaddy.com Bowl and the Blue Raiders would go back to New Orleans, where they sent a strong contingent of fans last year.
If MTSU loses Saturday, though, it is all a moot point.
“The most important thing is we have to win this game,” MTSU coach Rick Stockstill said. “[The players] know you have to win to go, so we do not talk about it past that.”
• Proud mama: Tennessee State women’s basketball coach Tracee Wells gave birth to Chase Richard Wells on Tuesday afternoon.
Chase entered the world at six pounds, four ounces and 19 inches long and was born at Stonecrest Medical Center in Smyrna. Wells will be on maternity leave until mid-January and assistant coach Rasheeda Love will step in her place. Wells’ husband, Charles, is an assistant men’s basketball coach at Austin Peay.
• Vanderbilt’s Johnson named nation’s top baseball assistant: Commodores pitching coach Derek Johnson was named the assistant coach of the year by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) and Baseball America.
He guided a pitching staff that had a 3.69 ERA, which was the second-lowest in the Southeastern Conference. Vanderbilt compiled 46 wins, reached its second Super Regional and was one win away from the program’s appearance in the College World Series.
Johnson, who has been with Vanderbilt since 2002, was promoted to associate head coach before last season. It is his second national honor as he was named the National College Pitching Coach of the Year in 2004. He will be honored at the ABCA’s annual convention in January at the Opryland Hotel.