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November 18, 2013

Oakland University volleyball earns spot in Horizon League Tournament

By Mark Vest
C & G Sports Writer

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Oakland University volleyball earns spot in Horizon League Tournament
Oakland’s Alissa Valentine is pictured during a match against the University of Illinois at Chicago. The Golden Grizzlies won seven of their last eight regular-season matches.

Whether it be this year’s squad or another one that may do it in the future, the next Oakland University volleyball team to make it to the NCAA tournament will be the first to accomplish that feat in the program’s Division I era.

Head coach Rob Beam has been at the helm since 2007, and he knows what it would mean to make history for Oakland’s program.

“It would be another step along the path we started in 2007,” he said. “It would be a huge event for me, professionally. I think it would be a tremendous honor for the current team if we (were) to accomplish that, but it would also speak to the alumni and all their hard work to change the momentum of the program. I think it would also say a lot about the athletic administration — (Director of Athletics) Tracy Huth and our leadership. Going to the NCAA tournament would be a huge marker for all of us.”

Oakland’s only guaranteed way of earning a berth into the NCAA tournament is by winning the Horizon League Tournament, which is scheduled to take place Nov. 22-24. Oakland won seven of its last eight regular-season matches, and are scheduled to play at 7 p.m. Nov. 22 in a Horizon League Tournament opening-round contest against Cleveland State.

“I think this has been a great season for our team and our program,” he said. “This has been a transition year, but it’s been the right kind of transition. We’re right on schedule. We’re playing the best volleyball we’ve played all year. I’m very excited and pleased with the season.”

Alexis Rutter (Fraser High School) and Alissa Valentine (Naperville North, Ill) are Oakland’s two senior representatives, and Beam expressed appreciation for the role they have played for the Grizzlies.

“One of the things you count on every year are your seniors and the experience they have,” he said. “Particularly this year, with so many young teammates, Alissa and Alexis have been phenomenal. Alexis — she’s energetic, (and) she is devoted to the program — one of our best athletes in the weight room. (She is) extremely encouraging. She’s been a tremendous role model.

“And then, Alissa’s been a four-year contributor to the program as one of our setters. Alissa and I had meetings during the year to talk about how we can best help this particular group grow and improve. We got together a plan, and it involved her communicating an even larger role than being a senior and a captain. She did a tremendous job. I think one of the reasons we’re playing so well at the end of the year is all the effort she’s put into helping her teammates. She’s been fantastic for us.”

Earlier this season, Oakland defeated programs such as Syracuse and Rutgers, while last year the Golden Grizzlies were victorious against a Big Ten team, beating Iowa 3-2.  Wins like that could help explain why Beam said Oakland has earned “respect nationally.”

He expressed optimism about the state of Oakland’s program as it moves forward.

“I think we’ve achieved a level of status and standing,” he said. “We’re really working on being comprehensively successful. Our team GPA is right around (3.5) cumulatively, after last year. Our women do a tremendous job with their service — they’re tremendous ambassadors on the court and off. And we’re winning. Those things are all important to me.

“Seniors are going to be missed after this season’s over, hopefully, in December, but return a great group for next year. I think there’s nothing but upside and potential.”

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has clinched the hosting rights for Horizon League Tournament.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mark Vest at mvest@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1112. Twitter Follow Mark on Twitter.