Lizzy Stemke had a long day on Sunday.
The Georgia volleyball coach tried to occupy her time as she waited for the start of the 9:30 p.m. NCAA tournament selection show.
‚ÄúI went shopping. I cleaned my house about 15 times. I checked Twitter,‚Äù said Stemke, who is in her third year with the Bulldogs (22-9). ‚ÄúUnfortunately, I hate to admit, but I got on the computer and tried to mathematically tried to figure stuff out on my own. That‚Äôs a grueling 48 hours for sure.‚Äù
All 15 of Stemke‚Äôs players, her assistant coaches, her parents, husband and child gathered in front of the TV in Stemke‚Äôs basement family room to watch the show. Not too long after 9:30, the Bulldogs learned they had earned a berth in the tournament for the first time since 2004. Stemke‚Äôs anxiety was replaced with relief and elation. She interlocked her fingers behind her head as she glanced up, her eyes welling with tears after Georgia‚Äôs name popped up on the screen.
‚ÄúNo question about it,‚Äù Stemke said of crying after the announcement. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm not afraid to say it. It was emotional.‚Äù
Senior libero Allison Summers cried, as did many of her teammates, as they all embraced each other, unsure before the start of the show if the Bulldogs had done enough in the season to earn a bid.
‚ÄúWe knew that we were perhaps on the bubble, so none of us knew if we were going to get in or not,‚Äù Summer said. ‚ÄúSo all day definitely stomachs were turning. We barely slept the night before.‚Äù
The Bulldogs ended the season on an 8-3 run and will face American (32-2) today at 5:30 p.m. in Durham, N.C. The winner would advance to Saturday‚Äôs second round to face either Duke or College of Charleston.
‚ÄúWe have really tried to stay away from just talking about the big goal of the NCAA tournament. But that has been our big goal,‚Äù Stemke said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve really focused on the process along the way. The team has just bought in full force, so to see that moment for them, it is emotional.‚Äù
Today‚Äôs match will be a homecoming of sorts for senior outside hitter Brittany Northcutt, who was named to the All-Southeastern Conference team this week. The Greensboro, N.C., native said her family had seen a mock bracket that projected the Bulldogs would play in Durham for the first round.
‚ÄúSeeing that that‚Äôs actually where we are going they‚Äôre just ecstatic that for my senior year we‚Äôre going to the tournament and I‚Äôm coming an hour away from home, so it‚Äôs an awesome feeling,‚Äù Northcutt said.
Northcutt is one of four seniors who were freshmen when Stemke was named head coach on Dec. 22, 2010, making her Greg McGarity‚Äôs first hire as athletic director. Stemke pushed for a change in Georgia‚Äôs ‚Äúgym culture‚Äù and shuffled around player positions before the start of her first season in 2011. Georgia finished 11-19 (7-13 SEC) that season and notched three more wins in 2012, finishing 14-16 (8-12 SEC).
‚ÄúI think we certainly could not have done what we‚Äôve done in these couple of years if they hadn‚Äôt been so invested from the beginning,‚Äù Stemke said.
Summers said Stemke‚Äôs demanding expectations has been a big reason for Georgia‚Äôs turnaround this season.
‚ÄúShe deserves this just as much as our whole team does,‚Äù Summers said. ‚ÄúI think we‚Äôve all fought to get this program as far as we have. I think it‚Äôs really paying off for her now.‚Äù