WAYNE — The Wayne State volleyball team is hosting the NCAA Division II Central Regional tournament in the friendly confines of Rice Auditorium this weekend and the Wildcats hope to parlay a little "home cooking" into a trip to the Division II Final Four.
The Wildcats made it to the Final Four back in 2015 and coach Scott Kneifl was along for that ride.
But this time it feels different.
Kneifl has a young team that is experienced.
"We only have two seniors on the team and with COVID, we have several girls returning that have been here awhile," he said. "It's a perfect storm. We need to keep playing our game."
When it comes to this time of year, the competition gets better and better.
And Kneifl understands.
"I have been at this long enough, I get that we need to play well every single night," Kneifl said. "We play in the best conference in the country and, now, it's win or go home.
"I trust our girls. They know what it takes to get it done."
This is a different group.
Including a 29-2 record, the Wildcats have accumulated a 19-1 record in the regular-season conference slate, including 20 sweeps.
"These girls have come in daily and kept grinding," assistant coach Kim DePew said. "With our schedule and the week-to-week battles, we kept it steady all season long."
The regional is full of obstacles. The lowest nationally ranked team is No. 24 Harding.
The Wildcats are No. 2, Concordia-St. Paul is No. 3, Minnesota-Duluth is No. 6, St. Cloud State is No. 7, Northwest Missouri State is No. 12, the University of Nebraska at Kearney is No. 13 and Washburn is No. 15.
"It's by far the toughest region in the country," Kneifl said. "Obviously we'll have to play our best to keep playing, but it's that time of year."
Jessie Brandl from Stanton — one of only two seniors on the team — is more than happy to be playing at home this weekend.
"I am super excited to be playing here at home," Brandl said. "Traveling with this team over the years has been a blast, but playing at home is 10 times better. Family and friends can come and watch, I can sleep in my own bed — this is the best."
The tournament starts Friday at noon with Washburn and Minnesota-Duluth, followed by Nebraska-Kearney vs. Concordia-St. Paul at 2:30 p.m.
Northwest Missouri will take on St. Cloud State at 5 p.m. and the Wildcats will play in the final match on Friday against Harding.
The tournament continues Saturday with Friday's winners playing at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. with the finals slated for Sunday at 4 p.m. — all in Rice Auditorium.
"If you like great volleyball, you should come watch," Kneifl said. "You will see some great, great volleyball."