Once again, Clark and Floyd counties will be well-represented in the NCAA Tournament.
Five locals have played prominent roles for their respective teams — three of which are among the top 16 seeds in the Big Dance — this season, and are expected to continue to do so in the Division I tourney that gets underway today.
The quintet is comprised of two Christian Academy alumnae, Samford junior Sierra Rayzor and Kentucky sophomore Alli Stumler, as well as Providence alum Marissa Hornung, a Purdue sophomore; New Albany graduate Allyson Cathey, a Penn State sophomore and Floyd Central grad Gwyn Jones, a senior at Marquette.
Stumler is following up a fabulous first season, which saw her earn Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year honors, with a splendid sophomore campaign. The 6-foot-1 outside hitter recently earned first-team All-SEC honors for the second straight year for the Wildcats (23-6), who captured their third consecutive SEC championship. UK, the No. 9 national seed, will host first- and second-round matches at Memorial Coliseum. The Wildcats will play Southeast Missouri (23-10) at 7:30 p.m. Friday night, after Michigan (20-10) meets Northern Kentucky (19-12) in the opening match. The winners will play at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“I’m so excited,” Stumler said. “I’m pumped to see Memorial filled. I think that’s awesome that we get to host.”
Stumler ranks second on the squad in kills (350) and points (404) and leads the Wildcats in service aces (29). Defensively Stumler, who’s started 27 of 29 matches, is second on the team in digs (253), fourth in solo blocks (six) and sixth in total blocks (44).
Kentucky enters the postseason having won 17 of its last 19 matches — including its last eight in a row — following a 6-4 start that included a 3-2 loss to Hornung and Purdue on Sept. 18.
“I think overall we started off with a couple losses that we definitely learned from, and that have put us in the best situation possible going into this tournament,” Stumler said. “Every loss stings, but overall I think we learned from them.”
Rayzor, a 6-0 middle blocker, will also be playing in the Bluegrass state. She and the Bulldogs (24-5), who are making their second straight NCAA appearance, will face Louisville (19-9) at 6 p.m. tonight at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. The No. 15 seed, and host, Hilltoppers (31-1) will face Kennesaw State (22-8) in the nightcap. The second-round match is slated for 8 p.m. Friday night at Diddle Arena.
Rayzor, who was named to the Southern Conference All-Tournament team after helping the Bulldogs to their second consecutive title, ranks fourth on the team in kills (179), second in solo blocks (16), block assists (71) and total blocks (87).
Meanwhile Cathey and the Nittany Lions, who are making their 39th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament (Penn State and Stanford are the only programs to play in every Big Dance), will also host first- and second-round matches. Penn State (24-5), the No. 11 overall seed, will face Princeton (17-7) at 7:30 p.m. Friday night, following American (24-7) vs. Towson (28-2). The second-round match is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
Cathey, a 6-1 outside hitter who has started 17 of 26 matches, ranks fifth on the team in kills (185) and points (209.5). On defense, she’s tied for third in solo blocks (nine), ranks fifth in total blocks (36) and sixth in digs (56).
Cathey and the Nittany Lions finished in a three-way tie for second in the Big Ten standings while Hornung and the Boilermakers placed fifth.
Purdue (22-7), the No. 16 national seed, will host Wright State (24-5) at 7 p.m. Friday night at Holloway Gymnasium, following the Dayton (22-8) vs. Marquette (27-5) opener. The second-round match is slated for 7 p.m. Saturday night.
Jones is a 6-3 middle blocker who spent three seasons at Auburn before transferring to Marquette. She tops the team in solo blocks (11) while ranking second in block assists (56) and total blocks (67). Jones also sits fourth on the squad in kills (170) and points (219).
Hornung, a 5-7 libero, is fresh off being named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for the second straight week. Hornung, who became the first Boilermaker in program history to receive back-to-back defensive accolades, had a career-best 29 digs against then-No. 22 Michigan last week and has not committed a reception error in Purdue’s last five matches.
“THAT’S MY BESTIE!!!!!!” Stumler tweeted earlier this week after the Big Ten Volleyball twitter account posted Hornung’s honor on social media.
“These last couple matches, I’m just really pumped and proud of her,” Stumler added in a telephone interview Wednesday evening.
Hornung tops the Boilermakers in digs (398) and digs per set (3.75). In 466 attempts she only has 19 reception errors (a 95.9 reception percentage). She also ranks third on the team in assists (47) and fourth in service aces (21).
Last year Stumler and Kentucky ended Hornung and Purdue’s season with a 3-0 sweep in an NCAA Tournament second-round match in Lexington. This year if the two teams were to meet up again it would be in the Elite Eight with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
“Hopefully that works out,” Stumler said.