Following its fourth consecutive Gulf Coast Conference tournament championship, Xavier University of Louisiana’s volleyball team will be playing on the road against 12th-ranked Lindsey Wilson in the opening round of the NAIA volleyball national tournament on Saturday.

The Gold Nuggets (20-5) defeated SUNO 25-9, 25-19, 25-17 in the championship match of the GCAC tournament last Saturday to clinch their spot in nationals for the fourth consecutive year, and coach Hannah Lawing never underestimates the importance of being a dominant force in the GCAC. (Xavier extended its streak to 59 consecutive victories over GCAC opponents with their win over SUNO.)

“We started off a little slow, but we were able to push our way through this year,” Lawing said. “We don’t overlook our opponents in the GCAC, despite the fact that we might be facing tougher competition in nationals. We just make sure we maintain our focus and continue to play as a team.”

Xavier will be facing off with No. 12 Lindsey Wilson (32-3), the first nationally ranked team the Gold Nuggets have played since last season and also a team that had its 28-match win streak snapped in a 25-18, 25-18, 25-19 loss to Georgetown (Ky.) in the Mid-South Conference tournament final last week. One of 12 first-round matches being played around the country, the winner will advance to the NAIA national championship, which will be played Dec. 2-6 in Sioux City, Iowa.

“We’ve really approached this game with a focus on identifying their weaknesses and trying to exploit them, while also making sure we keep utilizing our strength,” Lawing said. “We haven’t seen them this year or all of last year so it’s hard to pinpoint the exact things we have to do to beat them. We just have to do whatever we can to keep the team together.”

Junior outside hitter CeCe Williams, who was awarded GCAC tournament MVP after racking up 12 kills and 16 digs in the championship game, said the team has been looking forward to these types of opportunities and that they carry the burden of wanting to be the first Xavier volleyball team to make it out of the opening round of the NAIA national tournament.

“This is what we’ve prepared for. We’ve been talking all season how we want to be that team that makes it out of the first round,” the Houma native said. “We’ve never done that at nationals and we want to be the team that does it this year.

“We don’t see many nationally ranked teams during the season, so we look forward to when we get these types of opportunities.”

Lawing also expressed how the match against Lindsey Wilson will be especially tough because of her friendship with Lindsey Wilson’s coach Andy Cavins.

“It’s bittersweet,” Lawing said. “I’m glad we get to compete against each other, but I also know he has a good team and he’s a good coach. It will be a tough challenge.”

The opening round match will be played at Lindsey Wilson’s Biggers Sports Center on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.