GREEN BAY, Wis. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) - Green Bay volleyball head coach Debbie Kirch announced her team's 27-match 2012 schedule on Wednesday, one that features four non-conference tournaments, 11 home matches and a number of contests against opponents from some of the NCAA's top conferences.
"I really feel like we put together a very competitive schedule for the 2012 season," Kirch said. "We are excited we were able to schedule four pre-Horizon League tournaments this year instead of our usual three. It gives us a chance to play teams from several different conferences which will hopefully help strengthen our league's RPI."
For the second consecutive year the Phoenix will host the season-opening Green Bay/Country Inn & Suites Tournament on Aug. 24-25, welcoming a trio of tough opponents from strong volleyball conferences to the Kress Center. Green Bay opens against Drake (Missouri Valley Conference) on Friday night, then faces defending Mid-American Conference tournament champion and 2011 NCAA Tournament participant Central Michigan the following afternoon before wrapping up the tournament against Auburn (Southeastern Conference) Saturday night.
Green Bay's first three opponents are from conferences rated in the top 10 in the RPI, as the SEC is third, the MAC is seventh and the MVC is 10th.
"Three very strong volleyball conferences are represented at our home tournament," Kirch said. "It's great to get that caliber of competition on our home court and it will be a good challenge to start the season."
Following the Green Bay/Country Inn & Suites tourney the Phoenix heads to DeKalb, Ill., on Aug. 28 to face Northern Illinois - another NCAA Tournament team from a year ago - in its first road contest of the season. The Huskies, the regular season MAC champs, went 28-7 in 2011 and earned an at-large bid to its sixth NCAA Tournament.
Green Bay returns to tournament action on Aug. 31 against Stephen F. Austin at the North Dakota Classic in Grand Forks, N.D., kicking off a busy stretch of eight matches in a 16-day span. The Phoenix continues the UND Classic on Sept. 1 with a pair of matches against host UND and South Dakota.
On Sept. 7-8 Green Bay is slated to participate in the Jackrabbit Invitational, hosted by South Dakota State in Brookings, S.D. The Phoenix faces the Jackrabbits on their home court on day one, and then concludes the event against Bradley the following afternoon.
Green Bay's fourth and final non-conference tournament is the Davidson Wildcat Classic, scheduled for Sept. 14-15 in Davidson, N.C. The Phoenix will face a trio of unfamiliar foes from the state of North Carolina, as Kirch's squad will meet North Carolina Central, High Point and Davidson for the first times in school history.
Horizon League play opens in late September with a pair of home matches on consecutive days, as the Phoenix hosts Cleveland State on Sept. 21 and Youngstown State on Sept. 22.
"As always, we are especially looking forward to our Horizon League schedule," Kirch said. "It should be a very competitive season in our league. Most teams have a significant number of returning players, so there will be a lot of experienced rosters which should make for a fun year."
One of those experienced rosters belongs to Milwaukee - Green Bay's first Horizon League road opponent on Sept. 28. Although the Panthers will be looking to replace six seniors from last year's NCAA Tournament team, UWM returns several top performers from a squad that went 16-0 in league play a season ago and has won 39 of its last 40 against conference foes.
The Phoenix remains on the road to start October, traveling to Chicago to take on UIC (Oct. 5) and Loyola (Oct. 6). Green Bay then returns home to face another team from the Windy City, taking a break from league action for a contest against Chicago State on Oct. 9. Horizon League play resumes as Green Bay's homestand continues with matches against Valparaiso (Oct. 12) and Wright State (Oct. 13).
The second half of conference play opens with two road matches at Youngtown State and Cleveland State on Oct. 19 and 20. Following the trek to Ohio the Phoenix returns to the Kress Center to host Milwaukee (Oct. 26), Loyola (Nov. 2) and UIC (Nov. 3) before wrapping up the regular season on the road at Wright State (Nov. 9) and Valparaiso (Nov. 10).
The top six teams qualify for the 2012 Horizon League Championships, held Nov. 16-18 on the No. 1 seed's home floor.
The Phoenix returns 10 players from a 2011 squad that went 11-18 overall and 7-9 in conference play. Among those returning is senior libero Brittany Groth (Oak Creek, Wis.), an All-Horizon League performer who averaged a school-record 5.78 digs per set as a junior - a figure that ranked ninth in the NCAA. Also back for her senior campaign is Carmen Leitermann (Schofield, Wis.), who finished second on the team and eighth in the conference with 302 kills.
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