For the second straight year, USC Aiken opens the Peach Belt Conference volleyball tournament against UNC Pembroke.
Last year, the Lady Pacers knocked off the Lady Braves, 3-2 before losing to North Florida in the next round. USC Aiken coach Will Condon believes another tough matchup is in store.
"I expect it to be just like when we played them in the tournament last year," Condon said. "I expect it to be a war. It'll be a battle from start to finish. It'll probably go five games, and it won't be pretty."
The tournament begins today at USC Aiken and runs through Saturday. Third seed USC Spartanburg (21-9) faces No. 6 seed Francis Marion (13-21) in the first quarterfinal match at 10 a.m. Second seed Armstrong Atlantic State (27-9) plays No. 7 seed Augusta State (15-18) at noon, while No. 4 seed USC Aiken (14-17) takes on No. 5 seed UNC Pembroke (11-20) at 2 p.m., and No. 1 seed North Florida (26-4) plays No. 8 seed Lander (7-19) at 4 p.m.
The USC Spartanburg-Francis Marion winner will face the Armstrong Atlantic State-Augusta State winner in the semifinals at 6 p.m. The USC Aiken/UNC Pembroke winner will take on the North Florida/Lander winner at 8 p.m. in the other semifinal match.
The finals will be held 2 p.m. Saturday.
USC Aiken ended the regular season with a three-game losing skid, and went 6-8 in the conference. Lady Pacers freshman Rachel Dalitz is fifth in the Peach Belt in assists (10.56 a game) and fifth in service aces (0.49 a game), while senior Courtney Schuetz is fourth in service aces (0.50).
Condon said he hopes playing at home will help the Lady Pacers. USC Aiken split two matches with UNC Pembroke this season, including a 3-1 win in Aiken.
"It's a good opportunity to have home-court advantage," said Condon, whose Lady Pacers are 9-4 at home this season. "It's always better to play at home than on the road."
Augusta State won't have far to travel, but the Lady Jaguars could have a short stay unless they play like they did early in the season. They opened the season on a 14-3 run but lost 15 of its last 16 matches.
"It's going to be tough," Augusta State coach Tess Lott said. "It's going to take some mental preparation from the girls. You have to have your 'A' game."
Augusta State's Casey Dennard leads the conference in digs (4.24 a game), while Ashley Dennis is sixth in assists (10.40).
PEACH BELT TOURNAMENT
WHAT: Peach Belt Conference volleyball tournament
WHERE: USC Aiken
WHEN: Quarterfinals-10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. today; Semifinals-6 p.m. and 8 p.m. today; Finals-2 p.m. Saturday
WHO: Eight PBC teams, including Augusta State and USC Aiken
NOTES: North Florida went 14-0 in the conference. The Lady Ospreys are ranked No. 14 in Division II. ...The conference tournament will be broadcast online at www.usca.edu/athletics.
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 114.