Thursday, October 10, 2013

Volleyball Riding High

Sorry for the delay in getting my analysis of the latest volleyball performance out. I decided to delay it because over the weekend, UTA swept a team they should have and were swept by a team that should have beaten UTA and then they played Texas State in a mid-week match.

In a 3-0 (25-11, 25-16, 25-18) win over Georgia State, UTA played well, had only ten total errors and never hit below .350. Shelby Dickinson had a double-double in kills and digs, while Charmaine Whitmore had four blocks. Consequently, they forced the Panthers into 21 errors.

The Mavs were hitting on all cylinders and if this team played in a couple of matches they lost earlier this year, they wouldn't have.

In a 0-3 (19-25, 14-25, 16-25) loss to Western Kentucky, who is receiving votes in the top 25 poll, UTA actually played pretty well, relatively speaking. The Hilltoppers are a smooth team that doesn't make mental mistakes. UTA went toe-to-toe with WKU in the first set, keeping the score even at 19 until the 'Toppers do what they do and went on a 6-0 run to end it (against Texas State, they trailed 23-20 in the first set and won it 25-23).

The thing I was happy about, in a match where a loss was expected and happened, was how well the Mavs played overall. In some of the ugly losses, they were undisciplined. In this match, with the kill total lower than I would have liked, they only hit seven errors for the entire match. If they can do that the rest of the year, they will vie for a top three finish in conference. Play like that against Texas State and Little Rock and UTA could be the runner-up.

UTA's attack percentage wasn't bad, thanks to the low errors, but WKU can dig like crazy. They play really solid on the equivalent of the defensive side. Hitting over .350 for each set helps a bunch too.

That moved the Mavs to a 3-1 SBC record and a showdown with fellow 3-1 Texas State. It seems that lately, no matter what UTA or Texas State does, the other is there too. TXST moves to the WAC, so does UTA. The Bobcats go to the SBC, here come the Mavericks. The 'Cats are near the top of the standings, hello Mavs. The expectation was there would be no sweep on Wednesday.

The match lived up to expectations. It was one of the best matches I have attended ever. UTA wins 3-2 (18-25, 25-22, 23-25, 25-22, 15-12) and I was impressed with how the Mavs didn't quit, mostly. The first set was very back and forth at the beginning with the Mavs holding a 13-10 lead. TXST ran off eight in a row and I hate to say it, but I was having that here-we-go-again feeling. It was also the most lopsided set of the five.

But then they did something I haven't seen in a good while. They buckled down, looked the Bobcats square in the eye and said if you want it, you take it.

The thing that makes the Bobcats a threat isn't their offense, though they did have 73 kills to UTA's 54, but their defense. They out-dug UTA 102 to 82. Their libero, Sierra Smith, is one of the quickest I have ever seen. She led all players with 37 digs on the match. Though they aren't the same type player, she did remind me a lot of Ashley Smith, the Libero when I was a student broadcaster and UTA's all-time digs leader when she finished her Maverick career (now second).

I was also very pleased with how the Mavericks really limited the hitting errors. If you aren't going to lead the match in kills, then you had better hit the ball in bounds, and that is exactly what UTA did, 18 committed versus 37 for Texas State. Just as impressively, they controlled the net, 15 blocks to 7. That really altered the way the Bobcats attacked. Without the Mavericks controlling either of those aspects, UTA drops the match. There was no margin of error for UTA in that respect.

Dickinson recorded another double-double, 13 kills and 18 digs, and Whitmore controlled the net with Taylor Gross, each recording 8 block assists. Whitmore also added 12 kills.

Next up for UTA is the Arkansas', UALR and stAte. With the win last night, UTA is 4-1 in SBC play and in sole possession of third place, behind 5-0 WKU and UALR, so that match is huge. The Trojans Edina Begic has won the last five Player of the Week honors, so that match will be a tough mountain. A win would put the Mavs in a tie for second and hold the early tiebreaker. A loss keeps them where they are.

Arkansas State is still the enigma I can't quite figure out. They were picked to finish in a tie for 4th in the preseason poll with Texas State, but they went 4-10 in the non-conference portion of the season. They are 3-2 in SBC play, beating Georgia State (3-2), Troy (3-2) and South Alabama (3-2), while losing to UALR (1-3) Louisiana Lafayette (0-3).

If the Mavs play like the did last night the rest of the way, hard to do since that was their rival and the grudge of losing five-straight won't be there, then they could challenge even WKU. Right now, though, I'd settle for UALR.

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