BOWLING GREEN — Last year the Bowling Green State University volleyball team was able to surprise its opponents.
Maybe “ambush” is a better word to describe the way the Falcons rose from the middle of the Mid-American Conference pack, posting a 22-11 overall record, including a 13-3 mark in league play. What’s more, the Falcons won the MAC tournament, earning just the second NCAA tournament bid in program history, the first coming in 1991.
“We definitely have a target on our back this year,” senior Paige Penrod said. “But this senior group has worked so hard since our freshman year to prove that BG volleyball belongs on the map.
“We realized that, after all of our work, we deserved more than we got in our freshman and sophomore years. And when we started winning, our confidence went up.”
The Falcons return five of six starters from last season, including All-MAC first team picks Penrod, Lindsey Butterfield, and Danielle Tonyan.
Second-year coach Danijela Tomic said last year’s success has had a positive affect on this year’s team.
“Every coach would wish to have the leadership our seniors give this team,” Tomic said. “Last year they tasted how it feels to be on the top, and they know what it takes to get there.
“It will be different this year, because no one will see us as underdogs.”
Penrod said she and the eight seniors on the BG roster have a goal of leaving a positive legacy for the program.
“It’s great to have one more year to leave more of a legacy,” she said. “We were all blessed to be a part of what happened last year, but we’re blessed to be a part of it again.
“We don’t want to ‘settle’ for MAC tournament champs. We want to be MAC regular-season and tournament champs and do more in the NCAA tournament.”
For this year’s team to repeat or surpass that success, Tomic said the Falcons need to play as a team.
“This team has all the ingredients [to be successful], but everyone has to accept their roles — and embrace those roles,” Tomic said. “Everyone will need to carry more about ‘us’ than about ‘me.’
“It has to be about individuals, not about the team.”
The journey begins this weekend, when Bowling Green hosts the Hampton Inn Invitational at the Stroh Center. On Friday the Falcons host Marquette at 7 p.m., followed by matches against two nationally ranked squads Saturday.
BG hosts 25th-ranked Creighton at 10 a.m., then battles 13th-ranked BYU at 7 p.m.
“Marquette is excellent, too — they beat us last year,” Tomic said. “We want our community to experience some of the best volleyball teams in the nation. And my philosophy has always been that to be the best, you have to play the best — and you have to beat the best.
“We have tried to put ourselves in a position to win some matches against some top-ranked schools. … If we were every going to have a tough non-conference schedule, this was the year.”
SOCCER WEEKEND: The BG men’s soccer team will host a pair of matches this weekend.
The Falcons will host Malone on Friday, then will play Michigan at Cochrane Stadium Monday, with both matches begin at 7 p.m.
Bowling Green, which finished last season 8-9-3 overall and was 3-3-1 in league play, was picked to finish fourth in the league this year.
The BG women’s soccer team also will be at home this weekend, hosting Butler on Saturday starting at 4 p.m. at Cochrane Field.
The Falcons opened the season with a 2-1 loss at Cleveland State on Aug. 25.