Lady Cougar Volleyball at National Tournament

Maybe seven will be a lucky number for the Genesee Community College women's volleyball team this week.

The Cougars will make their seventh consecutive trip to the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Tournament. This year's event will take place from Thursday through Saturday at Owens Community College in Toledo, Ohio.

GCC (12-0 conference, 34-14 overall) advanced to the nationals by sweeping the host Community College of Rhode Island 31-29, 30-23, 30-22 Saturday in the Northeast District Championships.

Tracy Obonna led the Cougars with 18 kills, 14 digs and two aces, while Candice Junor added 14 kills. Carol Brewer was next with 13 kills and eight blocks, and Alicia Capparelli handed out 45 assists and served two aces. Jamie Huglemaier paced the defense with 19 digs.

It will be the ninth trip to nationals for the Cougars under coach Roger Majeski. GCC is seeded 11th in the 12-team field.

"The seeds are always based on the history of where regions placed and how you've done this year," Majeski said. "We beat Hagerstown, but we lost to some Michigan schools that are middle-of-the-road schools. We also lost to Owens, which lost to St. Clair in their district finals. If you're going to improve your seeds, you have to beat those teams."

The national tournament will feature four pools of three teams each, with each team playing the other two in its pool in best-of-five matches. The top two seeds from each pool advancing to the single-elimination quarterfinals.

GCC is in Pool C along with third-seeded Kishwaukee Community College of Malta, Ill., and No. 6 seed Kellogg (Mich.) Community College. Kishwaukee won the NJCAA title two years ago, while Kellogg has faced GCC in previous national tournaments.

Kellogg reached the nationals by sweeping its district match against Vincennes (Ind.) University, which participated in the Kaminna Allen Classic at GCC in September.

"I think we're comparable to Vincennes. It's not out of the realm (that we could beat Kellogg)," Majeski said.

St. Clair (Mich.) County Community College, the top-ranked team in the country, is the No. 1 seed and comes into the tourney with a sparkling 58-2 record. GCC played St. Clair twice this season - at the St. Clair Tournament and at the Mott Tournament - and lost both times.

"At least we don't have to worry about them in the first round," Majeski said.

Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College is the second seed, followed by Kishwaukee, Illinois Central College, Kirkwood (Iowa) Community College, Kellogg, Dodge City (Kan.) Community College, Independence (Kan.) Community College, Kankanee (Ill.) Community College, North Platte (Neb.) Community College, Genesee and Hagerstown (Md.) Community College.

The Cougars play Kishwaukee at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, then meet Kellogg at noon Friday.

Quarterfinal matches begin at 4 p.m. Friday, with the semifinals set for 10 a.m. Saturday. The consolation match will take place at noon Saturday, followed by the national championship match at 2 p.m.

Obonna, an All-American last season, is one of only two starters back from the 2003 squad. The outside hitter ranks first nationally in hitting efficiency (.4921) and is 16th in kills per game (4.5). Overall, Obonna has 376 kills, 38 aces and 102 blocks.

Junor, the other returning starter, is seventh in the nation in hitting efficiency (.4296). The outside hitter has 293 kills, 36 aces and 99 blocks.

Brewer, a middle hitter, ranks third nationally in hitting efficiency (.4776) and is fifth in blocks per game (2.15). Overall, she has 114 kills and 215 blocks.

Capparelli, the team's setter, has dished out 1,247 assists, good for 12th nationally in assists per game (5.1). She also is 33rd in aces per game and 41st in blocks.

Despite losing four starters to graduation last year, the Cougars are in position to compete for a national title again.

"We have kids with experience, and with this format (at nationals), you definitely have to get hot at the right time," Majeski said. "Last weekend (at districts), we were the favorite. Now it's reversed and we're hoping to knock somebody off."