Another season in the books, another year without making the tournament. I had high hopes for the UT Arlington squad this year and there were times when it looked like Mavericks would take the world by storm.
I suppose in some ways, the 19-10 season and 4th place Sun Belt Conference (10-6) finish out of 11 teams is good. It certainly beats the 2008 to 2012 stretch with one winning season. But in the end, we are the Mavericks, the most storied volleyball program in the Belt (and still the Southland Conference) with more NCAA tournament appearances than any team in Texas but two. It would be nice to actually be in contention for a conference title in the last week of the season. We haven't been there in a long, long time.
I guess I should come to terms that we haven't had the caliber of team as we had in the 1980's, with their sweet sixteen, elite eights and a final four. In many ways, I think I have, but I can't let go of the fact that we are in the longest tournament drought in the program's history. When I was a student, we were at the top of the Southland Conference and able to make the NCAA's in any given year. I'm hopeful we can now, but don't have the same feeling that we are a dominant team. I felt we had zero chance against Arkansas State, minimal hope versus Appalachian St and not surprised with the Texas State outcomes. That wasn't the case against any team in the early 2000's.
The team looked good this year in some matches. There were times were I really felt the were the dominant team that could impose their will. But it wasn't every match, not even close. When trouble hit, it came in a predictable manner.
In their losses against equal or lesser competition, they'd get down early, make a comeback and just not have enough to get a W. There were too many lapses in those losses where they'd play even minus one big run made by the opposition. That seems like a lack of focus or coaching issue.
UTA suffered four five set losses versus two five set wins (against 7th place Troy and 9th place Georgia State). That is inexcusable in my opinion. Top it off with two losses that are tough to take - a three to one setback to 10th place ULM and a season sweep at the hands of the Bobcats. The ULM loss was at home to a team that finished with 3 total conference wins and was the third loss in 46 matches between the two teams. Totally inexcusable.
Versus Texas State, UTA played on the road first and lost in five sets. They come home, set a CPC and on-campus record for home attendance and lose in four sets. That, to me, seems like a lack of determination and focus. How a big, supportive crowd means, you lose the last three sets and perform worse than when you were at their place is beyond me. Take care of those two matches and UTA likely finishes a spot higher in the standings.
I think the biggest reason for my frustration is seeing Texas State surpass UTA. The Mavericks haven't swept Texas State since 2007, but have been swept by the Bobcats five times in that span.
I think the biggest thing missing on this team is a consistent, dominant offensive attack. UTA has the ability to to play solid defense, especially around the net. They can force an offense to change their strategy. But no team fears the UTA attack. It wasn't uncommon for UTA to trail in kills, even in the wins. They made up for it in other ways, but to become that team they once were, they have to have that back.
Finally, I am going to try something new and compare my predictions with the actual results and see how accurate I was.
This years final standings:
1. Arkansas State
2. Appalachian State
3. Texas State
5. Little Rock
6. South Alabama
8. Georgia Southern
9. Georgia State
I'm going to award a point total, showing how many places I was off and compare it to the coaches poll to see if my hypothesis is right about watching teams in non-conference play is a better gauge than coaches preseason polls.
2. Little Rock
4. Appalachian St
5. Texas St
6. Georgia Southern
7. South Alabama
9. Georgia St
1. Little Rock
2. Texas State
3. Arkansas State
4. Appalachian St
6. Georgia State
8. Georgia Southern
9. South Alabama
I got 2 teams exactly, and another five that were off by one spot. The coaches got one right and were off by one spot with two teams. In all, I scored a 14 while the coaches scored a 24. Not trumpeting my own horn, as I think it is obvious that seeing a team in action gives a better indication of a teams ability than starters returning/lost. For example, think the coaches would like a redo on the preseason men's basketball poll after the last week?