This is the second weekly installment in the "Top 30 Moments" feature to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the East Coast Conference.
The Dowling College Volleyball program was well established as an East Coast Conference and East Region power before the 2010 season, but the Golden Lions' campaign stands out as the best season of any volleyball team in league history.
Heading into the fall of 2010, Dowling had won five straight ECC Regular Season titles, five of the past six ECC Championships (although they had fallen in the 2009 final to Bridgeport), and had advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight in four of the past five seasons after winning East Region championships. As good as they had been, none of those previous seasons could live up to their efforts in 2010.
There was reason for optimism that the season would be special from that start as Dowling returned four All-Conference First Team selections from the year before in Patrycja Klekotka, Monika Kasperek, Bethany Shepard, and ECC Hall of Famer, Maja Potpara. Also back was a former ECC Rookie of the Year and two-time All-Conference honoree, Erin Przybylowicz.
The veteran squad got off to a blazing start, winning their first 15 matches of the season. After a 3-1 setback in mid-October to rival Bridgeport, the Golden Lions responded with a 16 match winning streak.
During that winning streak, the Golden Lions earned a share of the ECC Regular Season Championship and the top seed in the ECC Championship. At the ECC Championship, Dowling dispatched C.W. Post in the semifinals to set up a meeting with Bridgeport in the final for the third straight year. Dowling got their revenge on the Purple Knights and took back the title of ECC Champions with a 3-0 sweep. Klekotka was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player after compiling 25 kills and eight service aces over the two matches.
After the ECC Championship, Dowling was awarded the top seed and hosting duties in the NCAA East Regional. Sweeps over Caldwell and Adelphi set up yet another meeting with Bridgeport in the regional final. Once again, the Golden Lions came away with a 3-0 sweep to clinch yet another berth into the Elite Eight.
At the Elite Eight, Dowling faced an uphill battle. In NCAA Division II volleyball history, no team from the East Region had ever won a match to advance to the Final Four. The Golden Lions looked to break this streak against quarterfinal opponent, Clarion, who came in with an impressive 32-4 record on the year.
Break the streak they did, as Dowling made history with a 3-0 win over the Golden Eagles to advance to the Final Four. Klekotka had nine kills and four service aces, Potpara finished three kills and one dig short of a triple-double (7k-18a-9d), and Janae Giles sent home eight kills to lead the way in the victory.
Unfortunately, Dowling's run came to an end in the Final Four against Concordia-St. Paul, who went on to win what was the fourth of seven straight Division II National Championships. The Golden Lions finished the year with a 31-2 record and remain to this date the only East Region school to ever advance to the Final Four.
The win-loss record and NCAA success don't complete the full story of their dominance, however. Dowling obviously dropped three sets in each of their two losses, but in their 31 wins, only once did an opponent take a set from them. That adds up to an eye-popping 94 sets won to just seven sets lost.
Numerous accolades were awarded to the Golden Lions for their amazing season. Potpara highlighted the individual award winners. She earned her third straight ECC Player of the Year honor (she'd win a fourth straight a year later to become the first student-athlete in ECC history to accomplish this feat), was named Daktronics East Region Player of the Year and was a Daktronics Second Team and AVCA Third All-America selection.
Klekotka joined Potpara as a consensus All-American with spots on the Daktronics (First Team) and AVCA (Honorable Mention) lists. She also led all of Division II with 1.01 service aces per set and ranked seventh with a .412 hitting percentage. Kasperek made it three All-Americans with a spot on the Daktronics Third Team after ranking fifth in the nation with a .420 hitting percentage.
All three were AVCA and Daktronics All-Region picks as well and were joined by Shepard on the ECC All-Conference list. In addition, head coach Alex Koszalka was named the AVCA East Region Coach of the Year.
The NCAA Final Four berth, complete dominance, and numerous accolades add up to the most historic season in ECC volleyball history.