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Spikers looking at NCAA tournament

By David Rothstein

With a 6-0 record in the New England Women's Eight Conference, the volleyball team has assured itself of the top seed in the upcoming NEW8 championships. Smith College, which won the NEW8 title two years ago, is hosting the tournament on Nov. 3.

Although the final seedings have not yet been determined, it is likely that MIT will begin its defense of the NEW8 title against Worcester Polytechnic Institute. MIT won the championship last year for the second time in three years, defeating Smith in three games.

The Engineers have a 23-8 overall record this year, with two matches remaining in the regular season. None of the NEW8 teams have given MIT a legitimate challenge, and MIT is favored to win the NEW8 title again.

If the Engineers do win the NEW8 Conference, they will receive an automatic bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III tournament, which is comprised of 24 teams, and takes place in mid-November.

Aim set for nationals

With a NEW8 title victory all but assured, the women's team cannot help but have its mind on the national tournament. MIT finished fourth in the nation in 1983 and second in 1984, but did not make it past the opening round in its last two trips, in 1988 and 1989.

Head coach Karyn Altman '78 said in an interview Sunday that her goal for the team is to win the NEW8 title and get by the first round of the national tournament. Although MIT appears to be strongly favored to win the NEW8, and thus the automatic NCAA bid, the Engineers are ranked only fifth among Division III schools in the Northeast, and thus would not likely qualify for nationals without winning the NEW8.

The Engineers have the luxury of more than a week to prepare for the NEW8 tournament. After this evening's match against Springfield College and Thursday's match against Bentley, MIT has no matches until the tournament. Although long layoffs can take away a team's competitive edge, Altman said she was pleased to have the opportunity to fine-tune MIT's attack and serve receive.

Altman said that MIT would work to develop a reliable three-person serve receive -- using some combination of captain Cindy Parrish '92, Susie Gardner '92, An-Na Liu '91 and Coleen Kaiser '94 in the receive -- that would allow the Engineers to quicken their middle attack, involving Parrish and junior Denise Nemchev.

New combinations tried

Although the Engineers start three juniors and two seniors, only three of the starting six played on the team last year, and Altman said that much of the season up to this point has been spent trying various lineup combinations in an effort to best utilize the individual players' skills.

"The hard part about our season," said Altman, "is that we really never had enough time to get things together, and when we finally got our starting lineups together, we really didn't have enough time to [get used to them].

"We're just starting to recognize which players have which strengths and how we should use them."

Altman said that another key to post-season success will be to have all the hitters performing well at the net. Parrish and Gardner have often carried the team's offensive load this year, and Altman hopes to develop further the hitting of Nemchev and others.

This year's NEW8 Conference has been distinctly weak. Following MIT, it appears that Mount Holyoke College, Wellesley College and Brandeis University will be in a three-way tie for the second seed, with Smith in the fifth spot, and Babson College, Wheaton College and Worcester Polytechnic Institute grouped at the bottom.