UTA volleyball expected to make noise in Sun Belt Conference tournament

Members of the UTA volleyball team celebrate during a match against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette on Nov. 6 at College Park Center.

The volleyball team (10-6, 10-6) is heading into the 2020 Sun Belt Conference Tournament with positive momentum in its corner.

UTA has stayed competitive throughout a season that started with COVID-19 setbacks. Before the Mavericks stepped on the court this year, they had to postpone matches against Arkansas State University and Texas State University due to positive coronavirus tests within the team.

Despite starting its season later than anticipated, UTA got off to a 5-0 winning streak to open its campaign. The streak gave UTA its best start to a season since 2004, when it kicked things off with six straight wins.

The streak was interrupted when Arkansas State defeated the Mavericks by a 3-1 score Oct. 17. UTA bounced back from its first loss with a series sweep of the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

Over the course of the season, the Mavericks have shown that they can compete against anyone in the conference. Five of the team’s six losses came against Texas State and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette — two teams with 17 or more wins through the season. Strong performances from veteran leaders and young newcomers have helped the Mavericks over the season. Junior outside hitter Brooke Townsend, last year’s team leader in kills, led UTA with 186 kills through the end of the regular season.

Freshman outside hitter Briana Brown followed Townsend closely with 175 kills of her own. Those contributions led UTA to average 12.91 kills per set, good enough for third in the Sun Belt behind Texas State and Louisiana-Lafayette.

Seeing newcomers and returners alike put up impressive numbers shows two things:

First, the returners built on the lessons they learned from last year’s season, which ended with a quarterfinals appearance in the National Invitational Volleyball Championship. And secondly, the newcomers picked up on those lessons, even when they faced the effects of the pandemic.

As the Mavericks head into the conference tournament this weekend, they should have all the momentum in their favor. This weekend’s win over Texas State should give the team some confidence when it faces some of the best teams the league has to offer.

It’s not every day a team gets a win over an in-state rival, let alone a nationally-ranked in-state rival. Texas State was ranked No. 11 when UTA defeated them at Strahan Arena on Saturday.

Expect UTA to make some noise in this year’s tournament. They should pull out wins against programs like Georgia Southern University and Troy University, the teams they were placed with to kick off the tournament.

While the Mavericks might face challenges from teams like Texas State or Louisiana-Lafayette, it’s important to remember that they’ve already beaten them before. UTA could make a run at the championship.

@c_amaya7

sports-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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