Eagles' 2013 Volleyball Schedule Presents Challenges, Promise

In recent years, the Polk State College Volleyball team has vaulted from the Suncoast Conference cellar to statewide contention.

This season, head coach German Del Valle and his Eagles look to enhance their credentials by traveling out of state for the first time in program history as they seek to "play with the best."

Over the past two years, the Eagles have won the Suncoast Conference title and earned two consecutive berths into the FCSAA/state tournament.

They have shown that the rankings and history of other teams do not intimidate them.

Last season, Del Valle's first as head coach, Polk posted its first-ever victory over national contender Miami Dade.

The Eagles continued to gain respect as they defeated Panhandle Conference Champion Pensacola State in the FCSAA tournament.

They battled, but lost in three close sets to State College of Florida, which concluded the season ranked 15th in the nation.

The results and effort during the season and at the state event encouraged Del Valle.

"We proved to ourselves we can beat anybody," he said.

Polk hopes to add to its growing resume in Iowa.

Following an opening match against visiting Benedictine University of Illinois on Aug. 20, the Eagles travel to compete in the Reiver Classic hosted by Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs.

There the Eagles will meet Jefferson College of Missouri, Western Wyoming Community College, Salt Lake Community College of Utah and Barton Community College of Kansas.

Del Valle purposely scheduled the trip to pit his rising Eagles against national-level competition.

 "It will be an amazing experience," Del Valle said. "There will be at least three or four teams there that are nationally ranked. It's a great opportunity to see the best of the best. It's a good opportunity to play tough teams and see where we are and where we have to be as a program, and give the kids an opportunity to play at a high level," Del Valle said.

Based on the statistics, the competition should be tough in Iowa.

Salt Lake was ranked No. 5 in the nation last year while host Iowa Western was ranked No. 4.

Western Wyoming opened the 2012 season ranked No. 5 in the NJCAA and attended the national championship in 2011.

Jefferson College reached the Region XVI tournament in 2012.

Barton won the Region VI crown in 2011 and reached the tournament again in 2012.

"We hope to get a feel of the speed and the rhythm of the game that we sometimes don't see in Florida," Del Valle said. "We also hope that this exposure will help us with national rankings. We're putting our program out there to compete with the best."

While the trip poses new challenges for the Eagles, Del Valle said even the home turf is filled with tough competition.

"Hillsborough, Miami Dade, Ocala and Jacksonville have all been recently ranked on the national level," said Del Valle.

Both Hillsborough Community College and College of Central Florida reached the NJCAA national tournament in 2012.

Miami Dade was ranked No. 10 at the end of the 2012 season as well.

The Eagles meet Hillsborough twice during the regular season and attend the Hawks' tournament on Oct. 25.

Polk plays College of Central Florida on Sept. 4 and returns the favor by hosting the Patriots on Oct. 31.

In addition, Polk twice takes on Miami Dade on the road.

The Eagles play the Sharks in their tournament in Miami on Sept. 13. There they meet two more out-of-state opponents in College of Southern Idaho and Missouri State University-West Plains.

The College of Southern Idaho was ranked third in the 2012 final NJCAA poll.

The Missouri Grizzlies have attended the NJCAA Division I national tournament 12 years in a row and finished the 2012 season ranked ninth.

Polk will also be challenged at the State College of Florida Tournament Sept. 20-21 and the Florida State College of Jacksonville Tournament Oct. 11.

The Blue Wave of Jacksonville were ranked 19th in the final 2012 NJCAA poll.

In Jacksonville, the Eagles face Illinois Central College, which finished 11th in the country in 2011.

The Eagles squeeze in a tri-match with Palm Beach and Daytona State on October 19.

"You only have so many matches," said Del Valle. "You want to see as many different teams as you can."

Polk's home matches are played at the Health Center on the Winter Haven campus.

For more on the 2013 season, visit polkeagles.com.

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