While the competition at the Black and Gold Challenge won't contend for any serious titles, it was roughly on par with what they have seen so far this season. And unlike previous matches, there weren't mental lapses that cost them sets. If that keeps up, the rest of the season will be a bit better than the prognosticators thought at the beginning.
They beat Denver in five sets. While they aren't the same team as last year, neither is UTA. The Pioneers swept the Mavericks last year when both were members of the Western Athletic Conference. The two sets they lost were by six each, and only the fifth set win was by more than three, but they battled and didn't make too many mistakes. Aside from the first set loss, the attack percentage was good, and maybe the most important, steady. There was no .060 in one set followed by a .400 the next. Consistency is what I have been waiting for and they got it here.
The following day, they dropped a four set match to the host Mountaineers. Despite that, they scored at least 20 in every set, a sign they can find that consistency. Their attack percentage, while not awesome was passable. Had they reduced the hitting errors (7, 5, 10, 7), things would have been different. No surprise that the second set they won handily was also the one they had the least amount of errors in.
Then came East Carolina, which was pegged to be with Louisiana Tech at the bottom of Conference USA standings. It was a four set win in which the Mavericks hit very well in all but one set. Again, in the one loss, their errors were high at ten.
This is the best I have felt about the Mavericks all year. If, and this maybe the hardest part, they can keep the level of play up, they won't finish as low as they were predicted.
With that, I introduce my first prediction on this blog. The SBC released their preseason poll before matches were played. After looking at all the SBC teams so far, I unveil how I think they will finish.
1) Western Kentucky - They have beat top 25 opponents. They may not repeat last year's feat where they only dropped one set in conference play, but I see no reason they won't finish undefeated.
2) UALR - They had the second best showing in out-of-conference play. With Edina Begic winning three offensive players of the week in a row, they will be a force.
3) Texas State - They have played a similar schedule to UTA, but have beat some of the teams the Mavericks lost to. Also, as long as Karen Chisum leads the program, they will be competitive.
4) Louisiana - The Cajuns are 9-5 on the year, but their schedule strength is low. Three of their wins were against Southwestern Athletic Conference schools. Neither the teams they lost to nor the teams they beat are anything to write home about. However, they are consistent enough to be a challenger, despite their history.
5) UTA - I feel they could just as easily flip with number four. We'll know a little more after this week. With three losses to three of the four C-USA teams that received preseason first place votes, the Mavs schedule was a bit tougher than most.
6) Troy - They are currently 5-9, and only three of the losses were in five sets. They were picked to finish high, but I just don't see it right now. Their schedule wasn't terribly rough, but aside from the two SWAC wins, there were no dominating performances when they won. They will have to have an outstanding conference showing to have another 20 win season.
7) Arkansas State - They are a lot like Troy in that they were expected to go high, but haven't shown that on the court. Despite a rough OOC record (4-10) I put them at seventh because they have had a past of good seasons, but what I have seen may deserve lower.
8) Georgia State - Not a traditionally volleyball power. Their record sits at 5-9 and other than a win versus Clemson, nothing stands out.
9) South Alabama - This maybe the hardest because they didn't play in their last tournament, so I am down three matches to see what kinda team they are. They haven't had a winning season since 1995, so those two factors keep them here. I concede they could be a few slots better.
10) ULM - It is clear that the Warhawks volleyball team is more about keeping the football team at DI standards in number of sports sponsored and Title IX than it is about actually competing. Example, the Sun Belt has two losses against SWAC competition. So does ULM.
Finally, I update the Sun Belt versus other conferences. Parenthesis is UTA's
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