The Fresno State volleyball team took a huge step forward this season and is returning to postseason play for the first time since 2002.
The ‘Dogs will take on UC Santa Barbara on Thursday in the first game of a four team regional tournament at the National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC) at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“It means so much to me, the team and the coaches. We have made history and have come so far as a team,” junior setter Madelyn Halteman said about the Bulldogs’ return to postseason play.
This marks the fourth time that Fresno State will play in the NIVC. It earned an automatic bid after finishing second in the Mountain West Conference during regular season play.
UC Santa Barbara finished fourth in the Big West conference with a 17-11 record.
“It’s a good challenge,” Bulldogs first-year head coach Jonathan Winder said. “They have one player that is pretty exceptional, and she has carried a big load for them throughout the season and that will be a big part of the game is to stop and hold back one player and do a good job on everybody else.”
The player who Winder referenced is freshman outside hitter Gigi Ruddins.
According to Winders, Ruddins accounts for about 60 percent of the Gaucho’s offense and that it will be very important to slow her down to have the best chance at advancing to the next round, where the winning team will play the winner of the match between UNLV and UC Irvine.
The winner of the four-team regional will face the winner of the Wyoming regional in the third round of the tournament.
Should Fresno State beat Santa Barbara, it does have some familiarity with UC Irvine and UNLV as the ‘Dogs played both teams during the regular season.
The ‘Dogs lost to UC Irvine on the road on Sept. 14 by a score of 3-0 and swept UNLV in both matches they played.