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No. 1 seeded ASU volleyball opens conference tourney today at home

Senior Adrienne Morris leads the No. 1-seeded Lady Rams volleyball team into action today in the first round of the conference tournament, which will be hosted by ASU.

Senior Adrienne Morris leads the No. 1-seeded Lady Rams volleyball team into action today in the first round of the conference tournament, which will be hosted by ASU.

Want To Go?

WHO: Clark Atlanta-Lane winner at No. 1 seed Albany State.

WHAT: 2012 conference volleyball tournament, Game 1.

WHEN: 2 p.m. today.

WHERE: HPER Gym.

ALBANY — Adrienne Morris has been down this road before.

And the Albany State senior can’t wait to do it all again.

“It feels like my freshman year all over again,” Morris said at practice recently. “I have that same exact feeling.”

When Morris was a freshman in 2009, the Albany State volleyball team won its ninth straight conference title, sweeping through the tournament without dropping a set.

After two straight frustrating seasons, dominating volleyball is back at Albany State and better than ever, and the Lady Rams are ready to take back the conference title after losing championship matches to Kentucky State the last two years.

“The past two years we made a lot of mistakes, and we weren’t as consistent as we are now or as we were in 2009,” said Morris, a native of Orlando, Fla., who is leading the Lady Rams with 4.18 digs per set.

ASU (21-11) went 16-0 in the regular season against conference teams for the first time in school history since the conference schedule was expanded to 16 games and hosts this year’s conference tournament, which begins today at HPER Gym. The Lady Rams are the No. 1 seed in the East Division, while Kentucky State is the No. 1 seed in the West Division, setting up a possible championship showdown this weekend between the bitter rivals.

“(Losing the last two years) is still motivating us,” Morris said. “Kentucky State took it from us two straight years, but this year we think we have a better team and a more athletic team, and even people that haven’t been here the last two years to feel the losses have a drive and are willing to work hard to win this year.”

ASU will open at 2 p.m. today against the winner of Lane and Clark Atlanta, a pair of teams the Lady Rams swept in the regular season. ASU won 48 of 51 sets against conference opponents and didn’t lose more than one set in any match, but coach Robert Skinner said his team isn’t taking anyone lightly these days.

“They are focused. They understand what needs to be done, and I think we have the maturity to get it done,” Skinner said. “I am trying to keep them grounded and trying to keep them focused. They keep saying, ‘We just have to win four games.’ Yes, we have to win four games, but we are going to play them one at a time.”

Success has defined the Lady Rams’ season — which began with seven losses in their first nine matches but turned around when ASU opened its conference schedule with 12 straight wins.

“It showed our dominance, and it showed our undying desire to win,” Skinner said about ASU’s success in conference play. “The competition in our conference is much better than it has been in the past, but we didn’t falter down the stretch. We won the games we had to win.”

The Lady Rams enter the tournament with wins in 20 of their last 24 matches, with their only four losses during that streak to Alabama A&M and Valdosta State.

“Even though we have lost some games in between, like to Valdosta and Alabama A&M, we still pick ourselves back up,” sophomore Sharme Ridley said. “That doesn’t keep us down.”

Not much is keeping down the Lady Rams’ high-flying net attack, which has been led all year by Ridley, Ashley Johnson and Jillian Anderson. Ridley is 69th in the nation in kills per set with 3.45, while Johnson’s average of 3.43 is 78th in Division II. Anderson leads the team in hitting percentage at .318, which is 85th in the nation.

Senior setter Jennifer Johnson has fed her hitters all season, averaging 10.33 assists per set (38th in Division II).

With all of his weapons, Skinner believes this team is better than the 2009 Lady Rams that advanced to the Division II playoffs before getting knocked out by powerhouse Tampa.

“This team is probably even more talented than that team was (in 2009),” Skinner said. “Depth-wise, I think we are able to compete with anybody in our conference.”