Binghamton coach Glenn Kiriyama knows his team faces a tall challenge this weekend.
“I think realistically we don’t have a big chance of winning,” Kiriyama said. “But I think there’s always that ray of hope, even if it’s just a small percentage point. We just gotta keep that hope and keep going and never give up till the very end.”
On Friday, Kiriyama and his Bearcats (13-17, 8-4 America East) visit the Nittany Lions’ women’s volleyball team (29-2, 19-1 Big Ten) for an opening round match to kick off the 2012 postseason.
The Bearcats last visited the Lions in the 2009 postseason under similar circumstances; Penn State being the No. 1 overall seed and the Bearcats getting in by the skin of their teeth.
The contest proved to be a lopsided affair, as the Lions swept the Bearcats, 3-0, en route to Penn State’s third straight NCAA Tournament title.
“We knew coming in that we were huge underdogs, so we were just trying to play within ourselves and not get caught up in the atmosphere,” Kiriyama said when reflecting on the match.
It is understandable for Binghamton to be awe-struck upon entering Rec Hall.
The largest crowd Binghamton played in front of this season was 400; meanwhile, Rec Hall has hosted more than 2,000 fans for every one of its 15 home matches in 2012.
While it is easy to encapsulate Friday’s matchup as “big conference versus small conference,” Penn State coach Russ Rose says all teams in the tournament have earned the right to compete and must be treated as serious competition.
“The reason you play the game is to see who’s better that day, not just to say ‘oh, that team’s going to win because they’re from a big conference,’ ” Rose said.
The Bearcats earned their postseason season berth this season by winning the America East Conference, making them the conference’s lone representative. Meanwhile, the Lions are just one of seven Big Ten teams that have made the pool of 64.
Rose reflected back on the days when Penn State was in a so-called mid-major conference, the Atlantic 10.
In 1990, Penn State’s las t season in the Atlantic 10, Rose led his team to an undefeated regular season and a sixth place finish in the national rankings.
“When we were in the Atlantic 10, we beat people from the big conferences,” Rose said. “I don’t think if you have major college football then you’re a better women’s volleyball team.”
One thing both teams have in common is a near-complete turnover in both team’s rosters from the 2009 matchup, save for a handful of players; Alex Roland and Jen Fiorentino for Binghamton, Kristin Carpenter and Marika Racibarskas for Penn State.
Despite the dramatic change in Penn State’s roster, Kiriyama noted similarities between the 2009 national championship team and this year’s Lions’ squad, saying both are “complete” teams.
“We have the chance to score points just as much as they do,” Kiriyama said.
“We just have to take advantage of the opportunities that are given to us.”