Southeast Missouri State University's volleyball team is assured of its first losing season under coach Cindy Gannon and the program's first losing record since 1980.
But Gannon hopes the Otahkians can still make it a big year by winning the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament that begins today in Morehead, Ky.
The Otahkians (11-18, 10-6) finished in a three-way tie for third place in the OVC and are the No. 3 seed for the tournament. They play No. 6 Murray State (15-11, 9-7) at 6 p.m.
Today's other first-round match features No. 4 Eastern Kentucky (21-12, 10-6) vs. No. 5 Austin Peay (15-15, 10-6).
No. 1 Morehead State (21-9, 14-2) and No. 2 Jacksonville State (23-7, 12-4) earned byes into Friday's semifinals. The title match is Saturday, with the winner earning an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
"I think it's going to be a wide open tournament with no clear favorite," Gannon said. "The records are a little deceiving because everybody has beaten everybody.
"I think if we come out and play well, we have as good a chance to win as anybody else."
Gannon, who is 355-193 in 15 seasons at Southeast, said she has been pleased with her team despite its overall record. The Otahkians won just one of 13 non-conference matches.
"We were a little overzealous in our schedule. We'll probably scale it a little down next year," Gannon said, laughing. "But I think the tough schedule helped us get to this point."
Southeast entered conference play at 1-11 and promptly dropped its league opener, but the Otahkians recovered to match their highest OVC finish since winning their most recent championship in 2000. Southeast has won eight OVC titles since joining the league in 1991.
"I've been coaching long enough to know that eventually I would have a losing record, and it's going to show us with a losing record in the books," Gannon said. "But this team has shown so much character and I'm really proud of them.
"The way we started out, it would have been easy to just give in, but we never did."
Southeast owns a win over regular-season champion Morehead State and also handed Murray State its only OVC loss on the court. The Racers' six other conference defeats came on forfeits after it was determined they used an ineligible player.
"We're the only team that actually beat Murray, so it should be another good match," Gannon said. "The parity in the conference this year was unbelievable. It should be a really good tournament."