UMBC volleyball makes program history, returns to NCAA tournament for the first time since ‘98

“History-making” is a term that’s become synonymous with UMBC athletics over the last few years, and UMBC women’s volleyball has exemplified that spirit this spring. For the first time in program history, UMBC women’s volleyball earned a share of the America East regular season title, splitting the honor with the UAlbany. Then, on April 2, the team traveled to Albany to take on the Great Danes for the America East Championship, and they delivered. 

The Retrievers knew they needed to leave it all on the court to clinch the win. After five grueling sets and with an audience of screaming fans for the first time this season, UMBC ultimately came out on top. At 3-2, they won their first America East Championship in program history. 

UMBC women’s volleyball holds the America East banner after winning the 2020-21 Championship.

“For us, it is not enough to just win the conference. Our goal as a team coming into the season was to win the conference, go to the tournament, and push as far as we can,” says head coach Cristina Robertson.

“Everyone expected the reigning champions to win, but our young team was eager to prove them wrong,” says Emily Ferketic ’23, physics. “When we were down, we reminded ourselves in the huddle that no matter what happened, we wanted to go down fighting,” she shares, and that tenacity paid off.

The Retrievers get their hands on the America East trophy for the first time in program history.

The win guaranteed UMBC its first automatic bid to the NCAA tournament since 1998. This past Sunday, the Retrievers learned they’ll be taking on No.20 Pepperdine University for the first round of tournament play in Omaha, Nebraska. The match is scheduled for noon on Wednesday, April 14, and will air nationally on ESPN3.

A transformative year

UMBC has one of the youngest teams in the nation in this year’s tournament, but the university’s first-year players have already made a huge impact on the team. Darina Kumanova ’24, emergency health services, was named to First Team All-Conference and Rookie of the Year, the first first-year student in program history to be named to the First Team. Kumanova also earned a spot on the All-Rookie Team. 

As a new student from Bulgaria, Kumanova had more to contend with than just what happened on the court.

“It has been a tough season for me – coming to a foreign country, adjusting to a new lifestyle, meeting new people, speaking a foreign language, working hard in the gym, as well as in the classroom,” she says, “but it was worth it to be America East Champions.”

Kumanova jumps for one of her 22 kills against UAlbany.

Anouk Van Noord, psychology, joins Kumanova with First Team All-Conference accolades. A senior with a 3.88 GPA, Van Noord also landed a spot on the All-Academic Team. She was named America East Player of the Week during the final weekend of the season. A graduating senior, Van Noord knew how high the stakes were. 

“The first day we met UMBC’s new Athletics Director, Brian [Barrio], in 2020, he showed us an empty photo frame on his wall. He told us that he is saving it for when we win the America East championship,” she says. “I am so proud to graduate from UMBC in May with that spot filled on his wall.”

More America East honors

Asyia Miller ’24, biological sciences, was voted Setter of the Year, just the second in program history. The first-year contributor also earned Second Team All-Conference and All-Rookie Team honors. Miller finished second in the league in assists per set. 

“It’s amazing to see the support that all student-athletes at UMBC have for each other. The unity of the entire athletics program shows how special being a Retriever is and how proud everyone is to be a Retriever,” says Miller.

Michela De Marzi ’24, biochemistry, (#3) and Miller (#7), goes for a block.

Rounding out the player honors, Ferketic was named Top 10 in the conference in blocks and earned a spot on the All-Academic Team, with a 4.0 GPA. 

Robertson and her staff earned America East Coaching Staff of the Year honors. Led by Robertson, the team racked up the most conference wins in a season since 2013. This is the first Coaching Staff Award of the Year the program has earned since 1994.

“My goal when I took over this program was to establish this program as a perennial America East championship contender and that is what we are building here,” says Roberts. “We have worked hard to establish a positive team culture and winning atmosphere, and the results are beginning to show.”

Fans can watch the first game of tournament play on April 14 on ESPN3. Follow @UMBCathletics for complete coverage and cheer on our Retrievers using #RetrieverNation on social media. 

Banner image: Beste Ayhan ’24, undergraduate studies, celebrates an emotional win over UAlbany. All photos courtesy of UMBC Athletics.