TOLEDO, Ohio - Fredrick Wagner's first year at the helm of the Iowa Central volleyball program has been a memorable one.
Now, the ninth-ranked Tritons (34-10 overall) will look to add some icing on the cake to another banner season.
Making their second straight trip to the NJCAA Div. II National Tournament and fourth in school history, No. 4 seed Iowa Central will face 13th-seeded Monroe (35-5) in the opening round of play this afternoon.
Start time is set for 3 p.m. on Court 2 at the Owens Community College gym. Tournament action runs through Saturday.
"I think being comfortable with the surroundings will definitely help us," Wagner said. "Our sophomores mentioned how they came in (to the national tournament) last year a little shocked by some of the competition. We've already played eight of the 16 remaining teams (Iowa Central owns a 4-6 mark against tournament squads), so I feel like we're prepared for this as much as possible. Of the six teams (at nationals) we didn't fare well against, five of (the matches) went five. In the latter part of the year, we showed we can compete against anyone."
The Region XI champion Tritons have reeled off six straight wins, including a four-game victory over Ellsworth in the regional finals. Iowa Central, which boasts a 78-16 combined record over the past two seasons, has faced 17 top-20 opponents this year. After a sluggish 4-6 start, the Tritons have managed 30 triumphs in their last 34 matches.
"Even though it's a double-elimination tournament, you just can't afford to take an early loss," said Wagner, whose squad went a perfect 9-0 in ICCAC play. "We just have to come down (to Toledo) and perform. If we win our first-round match, we assure ourselves of a top eight finish."
All-American and reigning Region XI-A Tournament MVP Alicia Moreno (512 kills and 503 digs), Nadia Morneau (416 kills and 288 digs), Algona graduate Brittany Vaske (318 kills and 57 blocks), Marilyn Gutierrez (590 digs) and Gabriela Reyes (480 digs) headline the Triton attack. Morneau is questionable for the national tournament with a sprained ankle.
"I'm really proud of our girls for all their accomplishments," Wagner said. "We certainly earned and deserved the best (national tournament) seed Iowa Central has ever seen."
District L champion Monroe, which is located in New Rochelle, N.Y., is appearing in its second-ever national tournament and first since 2009. The 18th-ranked Mustangs are currently riding their second all-time longest win streak at 23 consecutive matches, including 11 sweeps in a row.
"Monroe is a little bit out of the circuit coming from the east, but they look very similar to us in some ways with a big outside hitter (Tathianna Cordero)," Wagner said. "The distinguishing difference, though, is in the middle. Not many people can match up with Brittany and (former Bishop Garrigan prep) Shelby (Schindler). That's one area where we have a dominant advantage statistic-wise."
Unbeaten defending national champion Cowley (35-0) is the top overall seed in the tournament.
The Iowa Central/Monroe winner advances to meet either No. 5 seed Kirkwood (37-8) or 12th-seeded host Owens (35-9) tonight at 7:30 p.m. on Court 2. Both losers will square off in the elimination round Friday at noon on Court 2.