First all, my apologies for missing last weeks volleyball commentary. The whole family minus the youngest came down with a stomach bug (though not from last week's matches [/rimshot]).
The high of the Texas State match quickly came to a crash after both Arkansas teams came away with victories.
The loss to Little Rock, a 3-1 setback, wasn't terribly unexpected. I predicted they would finish 2nd in the conference. UTA winning the third set showed they could hang with them at least. However, the team once again proved they can compete if they limit the hitting errors, or more specifically, can lose if they don't. Otherwise, they struggle. In the sets they lost, they had five, six and eight hitting errors. The set they won they only hit two. The fourth set was close in part because the Trojans hit eight errors of their own.
UTA isn't a great hitting team, nor are they a great defensive team. They do both okay. They are a great blocking team, which can really influence how the other team plays their offense. But to overcome the lack of stellar hitting, they really have to keep the ball in play. When they don't, the path to the losing column is easy.
The loss to Arkansas State that was the toughest defeat to swallow. As I have said before, the Red Wolves were one of the hardest teams for me to read. As it stands now, they are tied for third in the SBC with UTA. They have been the team that I have been the most wrong in the predictions. They came into the match with a 8-12 overall record, but were 4-2 in conference play. UTA had the same conference mark, so it was a huge battle.
UTA actually scored more overall points than stAte did. The sets they lost were close while the sets they won were by a wide margin. But it isn't about overall points, it's how they come in the sets, which in this case were 23-25, 25-17, 25-27, 25-13, 15-13. Same song, different verse. If this team were to find the consistency they show when they do well, then there are only a 50 or so teams in DI that could beat the Mavericks. However, they just don't have it yet.
Other than the obvious losses, I am frustrated because they came at home. In fact, of the nine matches played in the first half of the conference schedule, seven were at home. Against even competition, winning those are so imperative. I hope that the Mavericks can find some consistency when they rematch later this season.
Next up, another home match versus South Alabama. The jaguars have no tradition, no winning season since 1995 and no chance of changing that this year. It should have been an easy affair, and it was, a 3-0 sweep. While I can be a little discouraged that UTA can't find the consistency against the good schools, they can at least do it against teams that aren't high in talent.
The match against Troy was a little closer. After winning the first two sets 25-16, 25-19, Charmaine Whitmore and Shelby Dickinson, two of the biggest contributors for this team, sustained an injury. Whitmore leads the team in blocks, and was second in the nation, and is second on the Mavs in kills while Dickinson leads the team in kills and is second in digs. A lot of offense and defense comes from those two.
Troy would take the next two sets 25-22 and 25-21. While anything could happen in the fifth set, Troy had all the momentum building and it looked over when the Trojans led 8-2. While I am an eternal optimist when it comes to my teams, 8-2 left all but a small spark burnt out. 8-2 turned into 9-4, which led to 11-6. Troy needed four to win and led by five. I rarely ever have seen a team overcome a deficit where they amount they trail is greater than the amount the other team needs to win. A comeback from that seemed impossible, but comeback they did.
This team finally showed me something, showed they had the drive to win. This was on par with the match against Texas State. The guts and moxy to turn a 6-11 deficit into a 19-17 win was extraordinary. Troy at one point had a 13-9 lead.
UTA would score four straight to even up the set, thanks to three attack errors by Troy. Having not been there, I can't tell through the UTA Radio whether UTA did anything to force those erros with their pressure or defense sets, but it makes for a better story if they did, so I will assume such (perhaps mistakenly).
Troy twice had match point, once at 14-13 and again at 15-14, but Troy had a hitting error on the first try and UTA's Hannah Baptiste recorded the tying kill on the second attempt. A Troy blocking error gave UTA a match point and the teams traded points until another Troy attack error gave UTA the win.
Again, I don't how many errors during UTA's run was forced or Troy's fault, but I can tell you this, regardless of the outcome, it would have been really easy to fold and they didn't. They didn't without two of their biggest contributors. It gives me hope not just in how this year will unfold, but in the future years. On UTAMavs.com Coach Seymour said it best.
"I told the team this is not where we want to be, but this is a look into our future, playing without Charmaine and Shelby."
Finally, I leave you with the conference standings at the halfway mark.
WKU - 8-1
UALR - 7-2
stAte - 6-3
UTA - 6-3
Texas State 5-4
Louisiana - 5-4
Troy - 4-5
USA - 2-7
Georgia State - 1-8
ULM - 1-8