Big Ten, Big East, ACC Foes Highlight 2012 Panther Volleyball Schedule
May 15, 2012
MILWAUKEE - The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee women's volleyball team will face five NCAA Tournament squads and teams from the Big Ten, Big East and ACC during the upcoming 2012 season.
The full 2012 schedule was announced today by head coach Susie Johnson.
In all, the Panthers will play 10 matches against teams that won 20 or more contests a season ago. UWM will face crosstown-rival Marquette twice and also renew its series with Wisconsin.
Milwaukee, which finished 25-5 a season ago, will be seeking its 13th Horizon League title and ninth NCAA Tournament berth in the last 15 years. Plus, when the Horizon League season arrives, UWM will be putting its 25-match league winning streak on the line.
"I am really excited about our schedule," Johnson said. "It should present some wonderful challenges and we'll be extremely prepared for a tough conference season and the potential for the postseason. As always, I want to give the team plenty of opportunities to be tested at a high level and improve throughout the year. I am sure we'll be ready to meet those challenges head-on."
Milwaukee will open the year in Durham, NC, in the Duke Invitational. The season opener is against Fairfield (20-10 last season) on Aug. 24 before UWM faces William & Mary and Duke the next day. The matchup between the Panthers and Blue Devils (21-9) will pit a pair of NCAA Tournament teams and will mark Milwaukee's first-ever match with Duke.
UWM then comes home for its Panther Invitational Aug. 31-Sept. 1. The field is highlighted by perennial NCAA Tournament qualifier Western Michigan (24-9) and also includes Bradley, Southeast Missouri State and East Carolina. The event will bring together a number of familiar faces, including SEMO head coach and UWM alum Julie (Yankus) Folliard. Panther alum Melissa (David) Emkes is an assistant at Bradley, and ECU head coach Pati Rolf was formerly the head coach at Marquette and still has most of her family in Milwaukee.
"We're all excited about the chance to bring together some familiar faces for our home tournament," Johnson said. "There are UWM connections and other local ties while every team in the tournament has a female head coach. It will be great to see some former teammates reunited and everyone involved in the event will be tested by great competition on the court."
UWM stays in-state for the next two weekends, playing at Wisconsin's InnTowner Invitational Sept. 7-8 and at the Marquette Invitational Sept. 14-15. The field in Madison includes NCAA Tournament qualifier North Dakota State (26-9) along with the host Badgers and Drake. Then at MU, the Panthers and Golden Eagles (24-11) will be joined by Pacific (18-12) and Iowa.
"I love having all of the Division I state schools (including Green Bay in league play) on the schedule," Johnson said. "Wisconsin is a high-quality Big Ten program and it is a great opportunity for our team to play against them. We've had the chance to play the Badgers annually in the spring and it will be very good to see them again in the fall."
The matchup with the Golden Eagles at Marquette is the first of two meetings between the two schools in 2012. UWM and MU will also play at the Klotsche Center Oct. 30.
"Playing Marquette twice is an excellent addition to our schedule. Both schools have established excellent programs, are in the top-50 nationally and played in the NCAA Tournament last season," Johnson said. "We all agree it makes perfect sense to play twice this year because of the quality of both teams and it is something that I think we would all like to see continue."
UWM will then shift to Horizon League play, which opens with the Panthers in Chicago for matches with UIC and Loyola Sept. 21-22. Milwaukee will play three home league matches in October while hitting the road for five contests. But, the Panthers finish up the regular season in November with three of their final four matches at home. That final run includes contests with Valparaiso and Cleveland State, the two teams UWM beat in the league tournament a season ago. The regular season then ends Nov. 16 at Green Bay, with the league tournament scheduled for the following week.
"The Horizon League will be strong and deep this year," Johnson said. "Teams have added some excellent transfers and others are simply getting more experienced and mature. League play is never easy. We know we have a big target on our back and this year will be no different. But our non-conference schedule will again prepare us and we'll be ready to defend our league title and be at our best come late in the season."
Milwaukee was a perfect 16-0 in the league last season and, in addition to having won 25-straight league contests, the Panthers have won 39 of their last 40 regular season league matches. Milwaukee has won 17-straight league road matches.
While the Panthers will be looking to replace six seniors, UWM returns a number of key performers from last year's squad. Honorable mention All-American middle blocker Rachel Neuberger tops the list of returnees, while setter and Midwest Region Freshman of the Year Kayla Price also returns to direct the offense. Horizon League Tournament Most Valuable Player Elizabeth Egerer heads the group those returning on the outside, while Anna Bartz and Taylor Golabowski are both back to lead in the back row.
In all, the Panthers return seven letterwinners and four starters for head coach Susie Johnson, who has been named the Horizon League Coach of the Year four times in her first five seasons in charge of the program.