Saturday, September 26, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3 Game 4: The Alpha Game

There are several good milestone games in this years edition of This Day in UTA Football History. When I was planning ahead, today ranked in the top three games of the year I was looking forward to the most. I'll come right out and say it, today was the first game as a four-year University after moving up from junior college status.

UTA, or Arlington State College as they were known as both a junior college and later a university, had accomplished about as much as could be done from a juco perspective. They were national champions in 1956 and 1957, had seven straight winning seasons, were four-time conference champs in that stretch with eight overall since 1934 and had a 203-134-23 since they started play in 1919. Their enrollment was growing and they were located in a strategic place within the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

There are some who credit the football team's success as the impetus for moving up from the two-year ranks. I can find nothing that backs that up, other than the anecdotal timing of the football team's success and the move to University status. I'd like to think the move was precipitated by other factors like academic desire, student demand, visionary leadership, etc., but I haven't found anything to say one way or another.

The team was coached by the legendary Claude "Cheena" Gilstrap, a man with so many accomplishments on his ledger. He sported a 51-9-2 record during his time at ASC in six seasons, prior to moving up. It didn't hurt that his predecessor went 8-1-1 the season ahead of him, but to perform at a level where the roster is just about guaranteed to turnover every two years, speaks volumes about what he was able to accomplish on the field as well as behind the scenes. It doesn't hurt that DFW is a cradle of football talent, but that is about as consistent as it can get.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3 Game 3: The First of Many

For today's installment of This Day in UTA Football History, we visit the 1964 season for the first time. There's nothing remarkable about this year from a star or results standpoint. After having winning seasons the first three years as a University, the then-Rebels went 4-6 in 1962 and 1-8 in 1963. The record would improve, but that's not hard after a one-win season.

The big event was going to happen regardless of what happened on the field. Coach Chena Gilstrap had been instrumental in the birth of the Southland Conference (he is in the SLC Hall of Honor for his efforts). The school-soon-to-be-known-as UTA met with four other schools that were floating in independent purgatory. It was March 15, 1963 when Arlington State College, Arkansas State, Lamar Tech, Trinity and Abilene Christian came together and decided to form their own NCAA conference. Some around Arlington attributed the independence to the stagnation of the program and believed playing for a conference crown would raise the talent level.

In fact, that is the most remarkable thing about this year. UTA played in a conference for the first time as a University program and the Southland Conference began play for the first time as an NCAA conference.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

2015 Sun Belt Volleyball Conference Predictions

As a primer for those just following this year, or not paying attention in previous years, I make my conference predictions at the close of the non-conference season, just prior to the start of conference play. I feel it gives a better look at teams, as sometimes some teams play better than expected or have an impact player not expected to be a big contributor, a coach who has the team running smoothly, etc. While I have been slightly made fun of compared to the pre-season predictions the conferences release, I'll take my marginally better track record compared to the coaches poll and move forward.

I feel this year's volleyball standings will look like past years, the teams in the top half will stay there, the teams in the bottom half won't move up. Not that surprising in the Group of 5 conferences Olympic Sports. It is expected and nothing I saw this year will change that dynamic.

The coaches estimated the following finish:
1) Little Rock
2) Texas State
3) Arkansas State
4) Appalachian St
5) UT-Arlington
6) Georgia State
7) Louisiana-Lafayette
8) Georgia Southern
9) South Alabama
10) Troy
11) Louisiana-Monroe

My picks are as follows:

Volleyball Check-up: Winning Early, but Who?

Time to check in with the UT Arlington volleyball team for the first time this athletic year. To set the stage, last year's team had one of their better finish in quite a while, going 25-9 overall and 14-6 in Sun Belt Conference play. The wins were the most since 2006's 25 and the losses were the least since 7 in 2004. It was a pivotal year for Coach Diane Seymour, who seemed to be losing the support of many UTA supporters.

UTA has a proud history in volleyball. As far as national competitiveness, it has been the University's best sport. Nationally ranked in the 1970's and '80's, seven wins in the NCAA tournament to go with 10 total postseason wins, a Final Four appearance, 12 regular season conference championships, 10 conference tournament championships and a winning record against 135 of the 217 teams they have played (20 are tied) are just some of the accolades the team sports.

However, most of those accomplishments happened a generation ago. The program suffered six losing seasons in the 1990's, first time the program ever had a losing season. Then Janine Smith took over and got the Mavericks back atop the Southland Conference and into the NCAA tournament. Her last seven season with UTA ended with winning records. Coach Seymour's first season in 2004 was a 20+ win season and three of the next four were winning records. After that though, it was 7-23, 12-17, 17-15, 12-19 and 9-21. She has rebounded since joining the Sun Belt, going 19-15 and 25-9.

There was some worry that this could be a slide from last year. Ashley Bennett, Taylor Gross and Amanda Welsh were big time contributors last year and graduated. Replacing them would be a tall mountain to climb. But early on, it looks like UTA has done so and is competing well.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

This Day in UTA Football History Vol. 3, Game 2: Playing with the Big Boys

Today's installment of This Day in UTA Football History will touch on a point that I have made frequently in this blog, the UT Arlington Athletic Department really bungled the move up from the College Division to the University Division, the highest level of college football at the time. In the mid-to-late 1960's, UTA was a major force in the Southland Conference. They won conference championships in 1966, and 1967, were a point away from another one in 1968 (one of my favorite UTA games) and won the 1967 Pecan Bowl. Prior to 1969, the University was already making plans to move up, primarily in securing a spot at Turnpike Stadium, the primarily baseball facility that would eventually be the home of the just-relocated Texas Rangers.

So with that, I introduce you to the 1970 squad. I'm just going to be blunt here and leave out any suspense, this team was the worst team UTA had ever seen in its history. They would not win a game, would be within one touchdown in only one game and were outscored 266-69 in ten games. Looking back on it decades after it happened, it would appear this season was the omen for playing in Turnpike Stadium and moving the program off campus.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3, Game 1: End of an Era

First, let me apologize for the late start. The last two editions of This Day in UTA Football started in the second week of the current NCAA football season. Got an alert from a reader asking why I didn't have one up and was told my reasoning was flawed and UTA had played games on September 5. When I looked, sure enough. So hopefully this is the last late entry.

There are a few good milestone seasons for this year's edition. Later on, we'll see UTA's first season as the then-Rebels transitioned to the four-year ranks from the Junior College level. We'll see UTA's last season as the equivalent of a Division II school. But the one we'll visit first is the last UTA spent as a Division 1-A school, 1981. I'll save the meaning of this season til the last game (that should be a hint right there), but we'll open up with the season opener.

UTA "traveled" to play SMU in the '81 opener. The Mustangs were coming off an eight-win season, their first winning season in six years. They were a talented team, several members of this team would play at the professional level. Once the game story starts, I have no doubt you'll recognize several names, so I'll hold off giving details of the team. If you need a refresher, the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, Pony Excess, is a great view. There's also clips of this very UTA game in it.

UTA played SMU the prior year, and it wasn't pretty. Some of it was due to SMU's talent, but the 3-8 Mavericks weren't hardy competition for much of anyone that year, getting outscored 341-248. When the highlight of your year is a stadium debut, there are real issues. Coach Harold "Bud" Elliott's squad was hoping for better results. He was on the hot seat as well. There was a lot of talent on the 1981 team, names that received all-conference honors in the current and future years. No one really knew it at the time, as the 1981 UTA Mavericks were a very young team.