Facing your first round NCAA opponent — let alone the second overall seed on their home court — can be daunting. But the Jackson State Lady Tigers, the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) champs, are up for the challenge.
“We understand who they are but we came here to play volleyball,” declared JSU Head Coach Rose Washington shortly after her team’s arrival in Minneapolis. They will face Big Ten Champs Minnesota Friday, 6:30 pm local time in the school’s Sports Pavilion. Washington and seniors Mikayla Rolle and Jenna Siddiqui spoke to the MSR Wednesday by phone.
“We weren’t surprised of getting [a high seed]” for an opening round opponent, confirmed the 14th-year Lady Tigers coach of the 26-4 Minnesota’s top-10 RPI, as well as being from a Power Five conference. But Washington duly noted that JSU (15-21) has faced tough foes all season long.
“That prepared us for what we are going to do right now,” said 6-2 Rolle, a middle blocker from Burlington, Kentucky. She was this year’s SWAC tournament MVP. “We are all on the same page about winning. We all have the same attitude about winning.”
JSU this season led the SWAC in assists and kills, and was second in hitting percentage. Siddiqui, the conference’s setter of the year pointed out that the Lady Tigers all year had competed hard and don’t expect any letdowns Friday against the Gophers, who are the favorite.
“We will compete and play the exact same way” in Friday’s match as in the previous 36 matches thus far, predicted the 5-11 setter from Rancho Cucamongo, California.
“The young ladies are very excited” about being in Minneapolis and in the NCAAs as one of 32 at-large teams selected last Sunday for the 64-team field, said Washington, a two-time SWAC coach of the year who guided Jackson State to its first NCAA berth in 2011 — this is the team’s third NCAA appearance under her direction.
She added that she is especially proud of her five seniors, including Rolle and Siddiqui who won the SWAC as freshmen.
“We’re glad to be here,” added the coach. “For many of us, this is going to be our first time” in Minnesota. “I’m so glad it’s not too cold,” said Washington.
Rolle says the Lady Tigers can match Minnesota’s intensity and energy, as well as their talent “because I feel we can match them at the net,” she said.
Washington says her squad is ready to go, with anxiousness expected as Friday approaches, but not nervousness — “[The players] never have been nervous,” she said. “If we can come with the energy…they [Minnesota] are hard to stop but they have to stop us, too,” concluded the coach.
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.