When Kelsey Culver was a freshman, the University of Toledo's volleyball team streaked to 10 wins in its first 13 matches. Then the Rockets streaked the other direction with 15 consecutive losses.
"We graduated six players off that team, so we had only seven girls for our spring practices," Culver said yesterday.
"We knew we had to do a lot of hard work to get where we needed to be. And we've never stopped working."
The result? UT has clinched back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in more than two decades and is headed for tonight's quarterfinal round of the MAC Volleyball championships at the SeaGate Centre in downtown Toledo.
"That was a big incentive for us this season," Culver said, referring to the event being held at the SeaGate for the first time. "This is the furthest Toledo has ever advanced and we should have good fan support. Our goal is to play our best and, hopefully, win all the way through."
The Rockets (17-12) advanced by hosting and winning a first-round game for the first time earlier this week. They meet Western Michigan today at 5 p.m., hoping to avenge two regular-season losses to the Broncos.
"We haven't played our best against Western yet this year, so we'd like to take it as far as we can," Culver said.
WMU (18-8) finished tied for second place in the MAC West and earned the No. 4 seed for the tournament. Toledo captured the No. 5 seed, its highest ever, after a fourth-place finish in the West.
In other matches today, seventh-seeded Bowling Green meets No. 2 Eastern Michigan at 11 a.m., Miami faces Ball State at 1:30 p.m., and Northern Illinois takes on top-seeded Ohio at 7:30.
The winner of the UT-Western Michigan match faces the Northern Illinois-Ohio winner at 7 p.m. tomorrow, following the first semifinal game between the BG-Eastern winner and the Miami-Ball State winner at 4.
The championship game is slated for 1 p.m. Sunday.
Culver, a 6-2 middle blocker, is part of a UT senior class that includes fellow middle Corrie Magnus and outside hitters Chelsey Poquette and Melissa Cedergren. The squad also sports talented juniors in outside hitter Kate Bean and defensive specialist Lora Sarich.