GRAND FORKS, N.D. - University of North Dakota Head Volleyball Coach Ashley Hardee announced his team's 2012 schedule Friday, a grueling 31-match docket highlighted by an impressive non-conference slate and the team's inaugural season in the Big Sky Conference. UND will be tested early and often, opening against national power Southern California (NCAA Semifinalist last season) and road-tripping for a tilt at in-state rival North Dakota State in addition to the 20-match BSC regular-season schedule.
"This is the toughest schedule we have taken on since I have been here. And, not only because of our move to the Big Sky, but our non-conference tournaments are stacked with quality opponents too," Hardee said. "We have five teams on the schedule that played in the NCAA tournament last year including Southern Cal, who played in the Final Four.
"Those early tournaments will prepare us well for a run at the Big Sky championship in November. It's going to be a great challenge and I know my team is looking forward to it."
The schedule kicks-off Aug. 24 with a trip to the Lone Star State for three matches at Texas A&M. USC is the first opponent, followed by duels against Texas State and the host Aggies. The Trojans, who went into last year's NCAA Tournament as the top-ranked team, finished third in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll after an impressive 29-5 record. That mark included wins over 10 ranked schools-six of those among teams in the top four nationally at match time. They return three starters and 10 letterwinners to provide UND with its toughest season opener to date.
The home schedule begins a week later when UND welcomes rival South Dakota to the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center to open the four-team North Dakota Classic Volleyball Tournament. North Dakota has gotten the better of the rivalry with USD 48 times, its most wins over a school all-time. Green Bay and Stephen F. Austin round-out the two-day, round-robin event.
A mid-week trip to Brookings, S.D. is on tap for Sept. 4 before the final non-conference tournament at Ole Miss. North Dakota will draw the tourney host in the final date of the competition, preceding matches against Rice and Alabama A&M.
The Big Sky slate commences with Montana State and Montana beginning a stretch of four out of six matches in front of the home faithful. That stretch concludes with the reigning Big Sky champion and NCAA Tournament participant, Northern Colorado, in a Monday night showdown on Oct. 1.
Eight days later, UND steps outside league play for the final time for a Tuesday night battle with NDSU in Fargo. Last season, the Fighting Sioux defeated the Bison, 3-1 (25-17, 22-25, 25-19, 25-20), giving each team a win in the series since the rivalry was renewed after a six-year hiatus.
The final road trip takes the Green and White out west to Northern Arizona and Southern Utah on Nov. 15 and 17, respectively. UND will then compete in its first Big Sky Conference tournament, set for Nov. 23-24 on the campus of UNC in Greeley, Colo.
*UND owns a 97-24 all-time Division I record.
*Coach Hardee is 73-16 (.820) in his career - easily the best winning percentage at UND
*UND is just 22 wins shy of 600 all-time heading into the 2012 season
*UND's 26 wins in 2011 tied a school record for most in a single season (26-11 in 1990)