MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Central Michigan, the reigning Mid-American Conference Tournament champion, has packed its 2012 volleyball schedule with challenging matches in preparation for another title run.
The fall slate includes matches against four 2011 NCAA Tournament participants and eight teams who recorded 20-win seasons a year ago.
"This schedule has CMU playing teams from all over the country with varying styles," said head coach Erik Olson. "Seeing different styles will prepare us for the MAC, where teams vary quite a bit in how they play the game."
The non-conference portion of the season includes three tournaments, opening at Green Bay (Aug. 24-25) followed by trips to Michigan (Aug. 31 - Sept. 1) and North Carolina State (Sept. 7-8). Between road trips, CMU will host Oakland in its home opener at McGuirk Arena on Sept. 4.
The Chippewas will face two Southeastern Conference opponents, Auburn and Arkansas, in the first two tournaments, along with Michigan, which made it to the NCAA Sweet 16 last year.
"Auburn is an improving program and should challenge for the top 100, as should Oakland," said Olson. "Both Michigan and Arkansas brought in great 2012 recruiting classes that will help in making them even stronger this year. We expect Michigan to challenge the top-25 and Arkansas to be a top-50 team."
In its final match before opening conference play, CMU will host IPFW, a team that finished 77th in last year's RPI rankings.
The MAC season opens Sept. 21-22 with home matches against Northern Illinois (28-7 in 2010) and Western Michigan (24-9). Both teams finished in the top three in the MAC West, earned bids to the NCAA Tournament and were ranked among the top-50 in the RPI rankings last season.
The Maroon and Gold will then hit the road for three straight conference matches at Kent State (12-19 in 2010), Ball State (25-8) and Toledo (10-18).
"The MAC over the last two years has had half of its teams ranked in the top 100, so we are lucky to be playing in such a tough league," said Olson.
Six league teams, including the Chippewas, had RPI ratings in the top 100 last year, making conference play a difficult challenge. The MAC also received a record-high four bids to the NCAA Tournament last season, the most of any sport.
As a tune-up for the postseason, the Chippewas will travel to Florida following the MAC Tournament (Nov. 16-18) to face Central Florida and South Florida (Nov. 23-24).
"Both Central Florida and South Florida will be great tune-ups for the postseason," said Olson. "Our goal is to return to the NCAA Tournament."