A new year lies ahead for the volleyball team, hoping to improve on last season’s quarterfinal exit in the Sun Belt Conference Championships.

UTA was voted to finish second in the west division of the 2019 Sun Belt Conference Volleyball Preseason Poll, behind defending champions Texas State University.

Senior libero Madelyn St. Germain said the poll gives the team motivation to continue improving and compete for the conference title. Senior middle blocker Madison Hill said she wants to surpass the team’s projected finish.

“Being picked second in our half is good, but not good enough, so we’re for sure trying to go for first place in our division,” Hill said.

Head coach J.T. Wenger said he expects the west division to be as competitive as last year. UTA finished fourth in the west, with only a three-match difference separating second through fifth in the standings.

Five upperclassmen and 13 underclassmen make up this year’s team core, Wenger said. Seniors and sophomores will have to step up to help UTA move forward, he said.

“I refer to it as the inertia of a program,” he said. “If you look at some of the very storied programs, they didn’t get there in a day, in a year.”

Having graduated Zhanelle Geathers, Wenger said the team lost a physical presence and a leader, but UTA has enough depth and a varied attack to make up for her departure.

The team recruited eight new players in the offseason, seven freshmen and one sophomore transfer. Wenger said they hail from different parts of the country with different volleyball styles. That geographic diversity gives the team a broader scope.

St. Germain said the incoming class adds a different element to the team, with many newcomers bringing solid hitting to the table. The new additions in outside hitting gives the team options in attack, Wenger said.

“We have kind of a sample platter, a sample pack of different weapons in our arsenal,” Wenger said of his new attacking threats.

These threats include players like freshmen outside hitters Devon Martinka and Megan Walsh who totaled 24 and 32 blocks in their senior year of high school, respectively.

The Mavericks need to have a balanced offense that can outhit opponents while also improving their blocking, Wenger said. The backcourt defense is also something Wenger stresses to his team, making sure his liberos and defensive specialists are ready to nullify threats coming across the nets.

Wenger said they will try to slow opponents down to stake their claim with effective blocking and strong defense. Those strengths should give the team an edge as it continues to tweak its system over the season.

“Our hitting has been good enough to win most matches we’ve been a part of,” he said. “But sometimes we’ve let our opponents hit too high of an efficiency.”

The Mavericks will play in four tournaments — two at home — before conference play, including matchups against No. 22-ranked Washington State University and Southeastern Conference foe Louisiana State University.

UTA’s opening game is an exhibition game against Dallas Baptist University at 6:30 p.m. Friday at College Park Center.

@_julio_vega

sports-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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