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UNLV women’s volleyball team headed to NCAA Tournament

Updated April 5, 2021 - 2:18 pm

The coronavirus pandemic delayed the women’s volleyball season and UNLV’s preparation for an eventual run toward the Mountain West championship.

But it didn’t stop the Rebels’ spring book club. Or the virtual discussions amid the monotony of quarantine protocols.

Among the books it read: “Legacy” by James Kerr, about a cricket team in New Zealand and, more important, leadership in sport.

“That one has been very influential with our team,” UNLV coach Dawn Sullivan said. “They want to leave their legacy.”

Beginning with a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

The Rebels (12-0) congregated Sunday at the Thomas & Mack Center to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show and celebrate their accomplishments. They received an automatic bid as the conference champions and will play Illinois State (16-5) in the first round April 14 in Omaha, Nebraska.

The winner will play second-seeded Kentucky on April 15.

Senior outside hitter Mariena Hayden said the NCAA Tournament is “everything we’ve been looking forward to.”

“We’ve had this in the back of our mind since our season shut down last fall,” she said. “We bought in and did what it takes to get here.”

The Rebels last reached the NCAA Tournament in 2016, but endured an 8-23 campaign the following season. Sullivan was hired in 2018 and tasked with rejuvenating the program.

UNLV has improved in each of her three seasons, culminating this year with the Mountain West championship. Sullivan said the postponement of the season actually helped the Rebels, allowing for freshman setter Arien Fafard to acclimate to the pace of Division I play.

The group jelled early in the spring season, and its confidence flourished with every victory.

“We’re going to come to the tournament with a team that nobody’s seen us play with,” senior hitter Alison French said. “Nobody in our conference really challenged us to push ourselves. We challenge ourselves in practice every day. Nobody’s seen the full throttle of what we can do as a team.”

The Rebels have 10 days to prepare for Illinois State. They said their work is far from finished, but they’re happy with their start.

“It’s huge,” Sullivan said. “We want to inspire this community to build on each other and help each other. Hopefully, we’re doing that along the way as well.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow BySamGordon on Twitter.

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