ASU volleyball coach Robert Skinner
ALBANY — It was a day later than they would have liked, but the Lady Rams finally showed up at the conference tournament Thursday.
And they brought their win-at-all-costs, never-say-die attitude with them.
“We came out focused because we knew that if we came out like we did (Wednesday) then we wouldn’t have been successful,” Albany State senior Jennifer Johnson said. “Despite who was going to be on the other side of the net, we all came out focused and ready to play.”
After rolling through the regular season with a 16-0 conference record, the No. 1-seed Albany State volleyball team opened up the conference tournament Wednesday with a stunning, straight-sets loss to Clark Atlanta.
On Thursday, however, the Lady Rams got back on track with a trio of 3-0 victories in the losers’ bracket of the double-elimination tournament.
There are now just four teams left — ASU, Benedict, Clark Atlanta and Claflin — and the Lady Rams will need to go 4-0 today to win their first championship since a nine-year title streak was snapped two seasons ago.
The route to the championship continues today at 10 a.m. with a game against Benedict, and if ASU wins it advances to play either Clark Atlanta or Claflin at noon. The winner of the noon contest will play in the championship series but needs to beat the winners’ bracket victor at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to claim the title.
That’s seven games in two days — with no room for error — for the Lady Rams. But Johnson believes her team has enough left in the tank to fight back.
“The biggest thing that we are going to need is heart,” Johnson said. “(Today) is going to be really hard. We are going to have to play four times, and they are going to be tough. We will have to leave it all out on the floor and play the best volleyball we have ever played.”
ASU played nearly flawless on Thursday, starting with a 3-0 victory in the morning against Fort Valley State. The Lady Rams then swept Lemoyne-Owen in the afternoon and Tuskegee in the evening, easing through nearly every set. Tuskegee led, 19-18, at the end of the third set, but the Lady Rams won seven of the final eight points to advance to the final day of the tournament.
ASU coach Robert Skinner said his team will need more 3-0 victories early today to save their legs for a championship run in the afternoon.
“If we don’t win in three, then we are going to be in trouble. Any time we have to go beyond three games (today), then we will be in trouble,” Skinner said. “It’s going to be difficult, but it’s for a championship. This is tournament (time). You either bring it or you are finished.”
Skinner was displeased with the Lady Rams’ opener on Wednesday and cautioned them before the game that they would lose with their lack of focus, but he had hopeful words for his team before Thursday’s first game.
“(I told them) it’s a new day with new grace, new mercy and just to be grateful and thankful that you have another opportunity,” Skinner said.
The Lady Rams seized the opportunity.
“We worked as a team (Thursday),” Johnson said. “On (Wednesday) we were playing as individuals, and everything flowed today when we worked as a team.”
Johnson, who is the team’s starting setter, is one of three seniors — along with Janeka Reid and Adrienne Morris — who is trying to extend her college career with a trip to the Division II regionals.
“I’m very confident,” Johnson said. “I’m not cocky, just confident that we will pull it out. It’s going to be tough. We are going to be exhausted and tired, and it’s going to take everything we have, but I’m confident this team is going to pull out a championship.”