Thursday, November 30, 2023

If Two Outta Three Ain't Bad, Then How Often Do We See Four Outta Six?

 Stephen F. Austin Volleyball will play Friday in the program’s ninth NCAA Volleyball Championship Tournament. With the historic at-large bid earned this season, SFA has now appeared in four of the last six Big Dances.  This year’s entry officially solidifies the most fruitful run of performances in the history of the program.  Other than the current 2018-2023 span, there has been no other six year period in which the ‘Jacks have played in the tournament four times.

The first wave of consistent appearances came in the mid to late 1990’s when SFA had three clubs earn NCAA bids.  The first ever NCAA tournament that the ‘Jacks made it to was in 1994.  That was followed up by repeat appearances shortly thereafter in 1997 and 1999.  I came to SFA as a faculty member in 1997 and this run is what grabbed my attention and first got me into the gym as a fan well before I began working for the team.

That run of three tournaments stood as the most prolific era until now. That’s because aside from the very historic 2006 team, which included some players from 2004 – another NCAA Tournament year, all of the other ‘Jacks NCAA Tourney appearances have come lately.

Twelve years after the 2006 team advanced to the second round with the win over Alabama, SFA returned to the NCAA Tournament to take on Texas in Gregory Gym in 2018.  Coincidentally, I began working for the team in that ’06 season.  I didn’t travel to that 2006 NCAA tournament, but after I had logged several years on public address and eventually began writing in this space, I began consistently traveling to Southland Conference tournaments.  I had long made up my mind – before we began doing radio and TV and I got hired for those gigs -- that I’d go to the NCAA Tournament whenever we made it again. Many years went by.

But then, the 2014 season was as close to a “sure thing” as I had ever felt.  Sweeping through the Southland regular season unblemished, I was confident that ’14 would “be the year” as we made our way across the Louisiana border to Natchitoches for another SLC Tournament.  In the semifinals, we lost to host Northwestern State in one of the two most painful losses I’ve ever witnessed and easily the most painful loss in a match I’ve ever called.  The audio of that match still exists in my repository, but I’ve never once played it back and I never intend to. 

The quartet of setter Paige Holland, right side Jill Ivy, defensive specialist Janet Hill and injured outside hitter Katzy Randall were all seniors in 2014.  I remember after the loss the tears in a group hug that after spotting me they allowed me to join.  It’s one of two times I was so moved by emotion that I boo-hoo’d a bit on the floor.  That was a special team, full of special athletes, all of whom I still loosely correspond with and/or keep up with a decade later.  The other time with tears? The same arena – Prather Coliseum in Natchitoches, LA – precisely four years later when SFA beat Central Arkansas in the Southland Championship match to begin this now unprecedented run of appearances to the NCAA Tournament.

Now, THAT radio call I’ve relived a couple of times.  I signed off rather quickly because I wanted to see the coaches and players have their emotional moments of celebration.  As a walked from one side of the court where I was calling the match to the other side where the benches were, the fray really ensued and fans spilled onto the floor and the celebration began.  It was so surreal to be in the EXACT SAME place and experience that thrill and a small happy cry after the sadness from four years prior.  It was one of those “circle of life” experiences like the one I wrote about this time last year when we were playing in the NCAA Tournament at Baylor.

Since that time, the team won the Southland Conference Tournament in their final year of membership in 2019 and then won the WAC Tournament Championship last year and received their first ever at-large bid this season.  So, that’s four appearances (’18, ’19, ’22 and ’23) in six calendar years.

How does that stack up with other mid-major programs?  Heck, how does that stack up with ANY Division I program? A few days back, I made a list of all the teams appearing in the last six NCAA Volleyball Tournaments.  It is important to remember that the 2020 COVID season saw a reduced field in the tournament and some conferences did not complete in interleague play.  So, some programs that historically have earned consistent appearances in the tournament did not participate in that year.  Here is how the list shakes out:

For the purpose of “Power 5” affiliation or not, we’ll keep it simple and use a school’s current status.

43 schools have appeared in the NCAA Tournament in at least four of the last six years.  What may be surprising to you is that the distribution of those 43 is not really lopsided in favor of Power 5 programs.  That’s because some of the automatic qualifiers have been amazingly consistent in some of the smaller conferences.  Twenty-four Power 5 programs have made the NCAA Tournament in at least four of the last six years, with these 13 powerhouses appearing each time:

Baylor, BYU, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville, Minnesota, Nebraska, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Texas, Washington State and Wisconsin.

The remaining 11 Power 5 schools that have appeared either four or five times in the last six seasons are Florida State (5) , Oregon (5) , Stanford (5) , UCF (5), Washington (5), Georgia Tech (4), Iowa State (4), Missouri (4), Tennessee (4), USC (4) and Utah (4).

That leaves 19 non-Power 5 institutions and the only one that has appeared in the NCAA Tournament each of the last six years is Creighton.  So, that’s an interesting piece of trivia.  For all intents and purposes, the Big East’s Blue Jays have a legitimate claim as the nation’s top non-Power 5 program.

So, we’re down to 18 schools and seven additional mid-majors have appeared in more tournaments than the ‘Jacks over our time span of interest. The seven mid-majors earning a bid in five of the last six calendar years are Dayton, Hawaii, Marquette, Pepperdine, Rice, San Diego and Western Kentucky.  Honestly, that’s a good list of schools that SFA is aspiring to join in terms of national reputation.  Those schools tend to hold one rung higher a level of repute than us in the world of non-P5 Division 1 volleyball.  Their tendencies, scheduling, roster construction, etc. are a blueprint in part for what Stephen F. Austin’s “next steps” could and should be.

The remaining 11 mid-majors that have been in the NCAA Tournament exactly four of the last six years are Florida Gulf Coast, High Point, Illinois State, Northern Iowa, Samford, Stephen F. Austin, South Dakota, Texas State, Towson, UMBC, and Wright State.  I think among this particular list, SFA’s reputation is quite favorable, if not near the top.

So, all in all, there are only eight non-Power 5 programs that have been in the NCAA tournament with more frequency than SFA over the last six years.  This will all change next year, of course, and the span of six years is certainly artificial given we defined it by SFA’s first return to the tourney in '18 after a long absence.  Still, it’s an interesting exercise to  look at which other programs have been producing at or above our clip in regard to ultimately landing in the NCAA Championships.

While all of this is rather academic and just of interest “for the record”, I’ll conclude with a list of things that quickly come to mind as I contemplate SFA’s ability to maintain this level of performance or even take a step up to the very top tier of mid-major collegiate volleyball.

  • Recruit a different level of athlete than five or ten years ago (I think we are doing this and need specifically to continue to do this with regards to bigger players that are also great athletes)
  • Schedule progressively tougher.  This is not as easy as it seems, but it would be a nice goal to look for even greater opportunities to play teams listed in this post.  Continue to avoid playing many, if any, low ranking RPI clubs.  After all, a big part of what got SFA to the tournament this year was “no bad losses”. 
  • The counterpart of “no bad losses” is “get better and better wins”.  While ALL of SFA’s losses were to NCAA Tournament teams this year, it would go a long way for the program if the ‘Jacks could secure wins against teams that wind up with RPI/KPI rankings close to where our own fell this year.
  • Finally, play well when given the opportunity on a national stage.  In 2018 and 2022 we played really stellar host teams that would have swept many other opponents (Texas in 2018 and Baylor last year).  However, in 2019, playing in Waco against non-host USC, SFA had a chance to really step out and make more first round noise.  The team didn’t play well and again, USC swept us out.

It is indeed an honor to play in the NCAA Tournament.  There is no doubt about that and this year’s historic at-large bid was a recognition that was unprecedented in our team’s history.  However, when forever looking to take steps forward, winning when given opportunities like this will need to eventually come.

Let's see how it goes against Arkansas here in 2023!


Saturday, November 25, 2023

Common Sense Crowdsourcing Says SFA Should Be In the NCAA Tournament

 In case you want this to be a one minute read, I'll cut to the chase so you can get back about your business.  If you put any weight at all on volleyball analysts predicting the NCAA Tournament bracket, then every one of them, if not hypocritical, should still be supporting SFA as an entrant as an at large bid.  Here's why:

The pervasive thought before the WAC Championship match was that SFA was a mid-seed in their prospective first round match-up in the NCAA Tournament.  That is, virtually every bracket prediction I saw leading up the WAC Championship match had SFA NOT playing the host team in the first round.  A team does not go from being predicted to be in a non-host first round match to out of the tournament all-together on the basis of two sets.

Now, the above thought is especially true considering that Stephen F. Austin was riding an 18 game winning streak and has consistently held an RPI in the high 30's / low 40's all during when these predicted brackets were released.  If you felt as though SFA deserved to play a host team in the first round had they gone 30-3 and won the WAC Tournament, then fine, my argument doesn't apply to you.  But, I don't know where those people are?  Again, that wasn't the crowdsourced thought at all.  Instead, it was widely believed that had SFA won the WAC Tournament that they would have the same fate as in 2019 - a first round match against a team that was not hosting.

(That's the end of the post if you only have one minute to think on this)

Now, provided you're willing to read on, let's do what the readers here would expect me to do given my background and that's put a little more numerics to the situation.

First off, if you've wandered over here because you're a volleyball junkie and love debating this kind of stuff then you need to know - yes, I am aware of RPI, Futures RPI, Figstats, KPI, Pablo, Massey, the Volley Talk Boards, Volleydork, Rich Kern, etc, etc.  I lurk on all of those sites, some for years, know how they work and anyone who has heard me call WAC matches knows that things from these places rather routinely make it into broadcasts. So, don't come at me with all that.  I'm not making a hometown argument based on hometown "feels" here.  Again, regular listeners on ESPN+/radio and readers here know that's not my style.

The NCAA selection committee in part, uses things such as head-to-head results, substantial wins/losses, common opponent matchups as well as rankings like RPI to make at-large bid decisions.  Even within the last few days it has been acknowledged that the committee is aware and considering the KPI ranks.

So, before we get into these things, let's be fair:  Stephen F. Austin, by virtue of losing in the WAC Championship is a bubble team for this years' NCAA Tournament.  To those of you that think it is OBVIOUS that SFA deserves an at-large bid - I'm sorry, that just isn't the way this goes.  It is NOT obvious that SFA deserves an at-large bid.  History very much places us on the bubble and there isn't much previous evidence in selections to rest on the thought that SFA is a lock.

However, SFA should not be dismissed out of hand here as well.  There are people - and they know who they are - that are doing this.  They are categorically dismissing SFA's candidacy over conference affiliation and circular reasoning.  You just simply CANNOT state RPI shouldn't hold much weight and then start spouting off records against the Top 25/50/75/100 as your primary reason for keeping SFA out.  I mean, first of all, those values (25/50/75) are arbitrary and they are based on RPI.  So, don't say things like "RPI shouldn't carry much weight, plus, SFA is 0-3 against Top 50 teams (by RPI)."  That's circular reasoning.  Do I think it is a fact that SFA is 0-3 against top tier teams?  Maybe. We lost to Arizona State and Baylor, who have stronger cases than us and outrank us. South Alabama?  That's debatable, and not so obvious.  That match was on the first day of the season on their home floor and we HAD ALREADY PLAYED A MATCH THAT DAY.  South Alabama had not.  That fact gets overlooked I believe.  So, I really don't think the loss to South Alabama should have anything to do with our candidacy.

One objective of things like RPI and KPI rankings is to do EXACTLY what we are trying to do here.  Compare Power 5 programs that by virtue of their conference alone will play tougher schedules to mid-major programs that by virtue of their conference will not.  I feel like a lot of the people that are down on SFA's at-large candidacy are double penalizing the Ladyjacks for their WAC affiliation and strength of schedule.  I mean, hey, either that is baked into the KPI or RPI or it's not, right?  At some point, you have to just stand on those ranks and say "that's been factored in already, so deal with it".

Now, are things like RPI and KPI perfect?  Of course not, and we should definitely strive for creating better metrics to evaluate our game.  Geez man, I've been advocating that in this space for literally 15 years! But, at the end of the day, if the accepted current metrics for comparing teams claim to factor in matches against opponents of various strengths, then we shouldn't be advocating for an RPI mid 50's team over a team that RPI's between 35-40.   That's just too much of a gap and too many teams to span to be logical to me.  The sampling error in those ranks isn't THAT big.  In large part, I think that's the key concept.  

Should we expect teams to cross the "cut points" and take at large spots away from teams that RPI/KPI higher?  Yes, sure, I see all the reason in the world to do that in some cases if the gap they span is just a few teams.  I would not ever advocate using straight RPI as the committee metric.  But a 15, even 10 team span?  That's pushing it.  Again, the error/variation, or whatever you want to call it in those metrics isn't THAT big.  Not a dozen teams big.

OK, so what are these ranking cut points and how does SFA shape up when evaluating them?  First, I'm writing this as of 3:30 PM on Saturday afternoon.  At Figstats, as of this time, SFA has a Futures RPI of 36 and only the Big West Championship game remains in terms of automatic bids.  The winner of that match will still RPI below SFA no matter the outcome.  So, there are 11 teams that have automatic bids that RPI higher than SFA.  If RPI were the straight dividing line on at-large bids, that means that that the last team in would be at 43.  Here are the eight teams above (at) / below RPI 43 as of this writing (again, depending on Figstats here).  I'm using "eight" slightly arbitrarily, but it creates a span of 16 teams - a full fourth of the potential field.  That seems like a reasonable window.

34. Missouri (SEC)

36. SFA (WAC)

37. Texas A&M (SEC)

38. UC Santa Barbara (Big West)

39. Texas State (Sun Belt)

40. TCU (Big 12)

42. Minnesota (Big Ten)

43. NC State (ACC)


45. Miami (FL) (ACC)

46. Georgia (SEC)

47 St. John's (Big East)

48. Loyola Marymount (WCC)

50. Drake (MVC)

52. UCLA (Pac 12)

54. Loyola Chicago (Atlantic 10)

55. Kansas State (Big 12)

Note that Hawaii is 56 of this writing and if they win the Big West Championship later today would leap into that bunch below the cut line.  The teams just above 34 are Houston, Baylor, South Alabama and USC.  I think they should all be "in".  I know the debate comes with South Alabama, but let's let RPI do its work.  A ranking of 32 seems too high to ignore.  Plus, South Alabama has a KPI of 34, so that seems to solidify their "ranking".  If there is a number you see missing from the above list it is because that team at that rank is an AQ.

We know that Power 5 clubs tend to have stronger schedules, so the candidacy of Mizzou, Texas A&M, TCU and Minnesota seem pretty strong.  While Minnesota ranks five spots lower than SFA on that list, their pedigree seems hard to deny.  They are a household Big 10 name and it seems unlikely they will be kept out.  

That leaves the non-power 5 teams above the cut line as SFA, UCSB and Texas State. There are those that will make the argument that SFA should be singled out and teams like Georgia, St. John's or Drake just straight up replacing them as an at-large bid.  To that, I say no.  No, that's double jeopardy.  You don't like RPI or KPI as a ranking, fine.  I know it's not perfect.  But, to span 10 or more spots in the ranking and single one school out and replace #36 with #50?  No, that's not okay.  The measure (RPI/KPI) isn't THAT inaccurate that we should NOT allow the final two or three at large bids to span 10-15 spots.  For what it's worth, KPI has SFA at 39 with Drake and St. Johns at 55 & 56 respectively.  Georgia does much better in KPI, however.

Point being:  If we are going to use these rankings at all, then there is enough "space" for SFA to fit in. Barely.

Overall, if you do the same sort of cut-point ideas with KPI, you'll shuffle some teams of course, but again, I see the space for SFA to get in.  Barely.

Some of the teams that Stephen F. Austin is competing with for an at-large bid play more "Top 25" and "Top 50" (in quotes because of the RPI circular reasoning point before) teams simply because of conference affiliation.  Our ranking systems take strength of schedule into account, so let that point lie.  Don't double penalize mid-major teams because of this issue.

An honest reflection is really needed here.  The "Power 5's get all the love" card can't be OVERPLAYED by those of us that watch, support and work around mid-major conference volleyball.  At the same time, the "You didn't win any Top 50 games" card can't be overplayed by the Power 5 supporters either. 

Baylor (my alum, mind you) was 0-7 against the "Top 25" and 3-11 against the "Top 50". Missouri, by nature of being in the SEC was 0-7 against the "Top 25" and 5-8 against the "Top 50".  Look, if you know you are going to play 12-15 matches against the Top 50, then by virtue of your conference you have a strong schedule.  Had SFA won against South Alabama - on the opening day of the year AFTER having already played that day, they'd have one Top 50 win having only played three total such matches.  But 1 of 3 is the same ratio as 5 of 15?  The metrics ALREADY have schedule strength built in.  STOP overplaying that card.  Just cite it for what it is, not give it twice the weight in at-large bid arguments.  That's my point.

If we are being honest, SFA is either one of the last two or three teams in or one of the last two or three teams out.  I am clearly acknowledging that "bubble".  I just believe a Top 40 RPI and KPI is too strong to ignore, no matter the other criteria and no matter the faults of those ranking systems.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

2023 WAC Tournament Quarterfinal Match Live Updates

 Set by set recaps for:

(7) California Baptist vs. (2) Grand Canyon

(6) Tarleton vs. (3) UTRGV 

and (5) Utah Valley vs. (4) UT-Arlington

will appear in the space below as a running transcript during the day:

5) Utah Valley vs (4) UT-Arlington

Set 1:

Caleigh Vagana gets an early block on UTA's Puckett and UVU leads 3-1.  Vagana then gets a kill and another block, this time on Reagor and UVU has built an early 6-3 lead.  UVU with all the early momentum behind the home crowd.  Lead built to 10-4 after a double contact called on Brianna Ford.  Timeout UTA.

Ford gets blocked by Vagana, who has been dominant at the net in Set 1.  UVU leads 13-6.  UTA is making too many attack errors, many off of UVU blocks.  The Mavericks are hitting negative for the set.  Vagana gets another block on Ford after Ford tried to kill and overdig on her own attack.  UVU leads 17-9 and Vagana has three blocks.

Utah Valley on a 3-0 run on kills by Tori Ellis and Kendra Nock followed by a UTA miscommunication by setter Blank and Reagor in the middle.  UTA takes their 2nd timeout of the set and UVU leads 18-9.  Looking like a runaway first set for the Wolverines.  Not at all what the Mavericks wanted in front of this crowd.

Utah Valley hitting .474 compared to just .125 for the Mavericks.  Utah Valley way ahead now 20-11.

UTA just can't get any stops against the Wolverine's offense.  UVU scoring at will. UVU with 15 kills and hitting over .500 in the set now.  Set point UVU.  24-14.

Ellis gets the final dagger of Set 1 after UTA got two points near the end of the set.  But, no matter.  UVU runs away with Set 1 25-15.

Set 2:

UTA starts Set 2 better.  Ford gets two quick kills and the Mavericks grab an early 5-1 lead.   Reagor for UTA gets a kill after Cuff for UVU was denied a happy birthday kill.  But, then Cuff comes right back with three straight kills for the Wolverines and they erase the early Maverick lead and force a UTA timeout.  UVU 10, UTA 9 as UVU is on a four point run.

The Mavericks HAVE to find some way to slow this Wolverine offense down.  Hailey Cuff has seven kills, Ellis also has 7 and Nock has five errorless kills.  UVU literally scoring at will, hitting .423 for the match now.  They lead 16-12 in Set 2.

UT-Arlington aced twice in a row by libero Lani Matavao.  UVU now up 18-12 and UTA in danger of being down two sets at the half if they don't go on a run quick!

Utah Valley first to 20 despite two straight kills by UTA's Jalie Tritt. UVU with only four attack errors in the match.  They lead 20-15. Shewell aces Ford and UTA is being dismantled.  UVU up big with many set points to play with at 24-15. 

UVU up 2-0 as they really have run away with both sets.  UT-Arlington can't slow their offense down.

Set 3:

Tied 5-5 early in Set 3.  Ford with a kill and a block assist early on, but then goes to the jump serve and hits one ten feet out of bounds. UTA starts off hot on offense in the set and gets kills on six of their first seven swings.  UTA leads narrowly, 9-8. 

Can UTA be first to 15?  They get first to 10 on a Brianna Brown kill.  UTA 10-8. The Maverick offense is blazing in this set.  Reagor gets a kill and UTA is 9 for 11 with no errors in the set after Tritt chips in.  UTA leads 13-10. Nock and Shewell get back to back kills to bring UVU to within one.  Jalie Tritt gets her 11th kill of the match to give UTA the lead 15-13 at the media time out.   It still feels like UVU has the edge with all the energy in the gym.  Will be real interesting to see if UTA can be first to 20 after being first to 10 and 15. 

UTA rolling a bit after UVU loses a challenge on a touch and then a Nock error.  UTA leads 17-13, their biggest lead of the set.  However, UVU gets three straight points on a Kaela Kennedy kill and then Brianna Brown of UTA makes two straight errors - shooting one shot long and then another into the net.  UTA takes a timeout with just a one point lead now.  UTA 17, UVU 16.

UTA finally in position to win a set.  Up 20-17 after Utah Valley plays a ball that would have gone long.  But the rally continued and Ford and Puckett get a block.  UVU forced into a timeout down four after a Brown kill for UTA.  Jalie Tritt having a great match.  She's at 12-1-20 (.550).  UTA 21, UVU 17.

UVU gets three straight and UTA has to take a timeout as the Wolverines are close to tying the set.  Ellis and Vagana team up on two straight tandem blocks and then a Medeiros ace has UVU to within one.  UTA 22, UVU 21 at the timeout.  Vagana has six blocks. 

Ford's 11th kill gives UTA their first set point of the match.  24-22.  UVU gives UTA two free balls in the last rally.  Reagor missed on one shot, but killed the other to give UTA the third set win 25-22.

UVU 2, UTA 1 going into the 4th set:

Set 4:

4-4 tie early in Set 4.  UTA got a serve receive overpass kill by Tritt that UVU just let fall to the floor.

Paige Reagor, of all people, gets a line drive ace off the UVU back row and then comes right back and hits a serve into the net.  UTA has the set lead 9-7.  Brianna Brown gets UTA first to 10.

UTA clinging to a one point lead after a Brown kill is followed by a UTA service error.  UTA 12, UVU 11. Matavao serves an ace as Wells and Skinner for UTA turn and look and watch it fall on the end line.  That has us tied at 13. UTA runs the middle on free ball and Reagor gets the kill to send the set unto the media timeout with UTA up 15-13.

Kaela Kennedy and Kendra Nock team up on a block and UVU has the match tied at 15.  Tritt with a kill and then Reagor in on another UTA block gives UTA a two point lead, but then immediately after that UVU scores two points punctuated by a Shewell ace.  That makes it 17-17 and UTA calls the first timeout of the set. UVU caught in a weak offensive rotatton and UTA takes advantage pushing out two more points where Ford's 13th kill forces a UVU timeout. Tritt leads UTA with 15 kills.  UTA 19, UVU 17. UTA wins a rally where it looked like UVU had a ball down.  No challenge.  Instead, UVU takes a timeout with UTA getting to 20 first again.  Are we headed five?  Or can UVU right the ship and get the set.  They are certainly close enough to still win out.  UTA 20, UVU 18 at the timeout.

Ford with a HUGE block on Ellis and UTA has a 22-19 lead.  That's followed by a Charity Wilson error and UTA is in control 23-19.  Vagana and Ellis turn the trick on Ford and get a block  UTA 24, UVU 21.  After Shewell gets kill to momentarily get the crowd all fired up, Ford just scores on push to a wide open corner.  UTA wins Set 4 25-22 and we are going to a 5th set!

UVU 2, UTA 2.

Set 5:

Wilson with an early kill followed by a Shewell block.  Then Shewell bounces a kill off the block and UVU has an early 3-0 lead.   Only going to 15! Ellis makes it four straight with a cut shot and UTA has to call a quick timeout.  That was fast.  Could that be it?  UVU 4, UTA 0.

Shewell kill.  5-0.  UTA looks dead in the water. Another Shewell kill on a tip.  6-0 and UTA with a final timeout.  UVU just absolutely took the air out UTA's comeback. 

Ocampo for UTA finally gets UTA on the scoreboard.  Shewell, who now has 11 kills immediately answers.  It's 7-1.  Make it 8-1 at the switch after a Ellis right side kill hard off the top of the block.  I think this match is over.  UVU just got out to such a fast start here in Set 5.  Could be a runaway set.

10-3 UVU after another Shewell winner.  UVU needs just five to be our opponent tomorrow night.

A little life for UTA.  Too late?  Reagor gets a block, then a Ford back row kill has the Mavericks on a mini 3-0 run and UVU takes a timeout. UVU 11, UTA 6. Ford kill, Reagor block and now its UVU 12, UTA 8.

Kill by Nock gets UVU to within two of the match.  Service error UTA.  UVU 13, UTA 9.

Ford kill.  UVU 13, UTA 10. Service error. UVU has a first match point.

Ellis ends it and we will play UVU tomorrow night.

UVU 3, UTA 1. Final.

(3) UTRGV vs. (6) Tarleton

First Serve: 1:05 PM MT

Set 1:

Zech starts off hot for RGV with three kill in her first four swings.  RGV 4-2.  RGV with seven early kills in the set hitting .333 as a team.  An ace by Perez has the Vaqueros up 10-7. Breanna McDonough gets two straight kills and then DS Kenzie Kellerman drops in an ace and the Texans are within one.  RGV 11, Tarleton 10.

Tarleton then goes on a 4-0 run into the media time out to go up 15-13. Vaqueros committed two attack errors in a row (Zech, Key) that gave Tarleton the lead.  But, RGV goes on a 3-0 run with kills from Key and Zech and a Tarleton ball handling error mixed in.  Maldonado then commits a SECOND ball handling error and RGV regains the lead.  RGV 18, Tarleton 17 and the Texans take their first time out.

This set is going back and forth as the Texans get three in a row with a kill by Schirpik, a block by Bryant & Burke and then a left-side termination by Bryant.  RGV takes a timeout as now Tarleton is back on top.  Tarleton 20, RGV 18.

The see-saw continues.  RGV forces Tarleton to take their last timeout as the set is tied late at 22. Silva Dos Santos coming up big for the Vaqueros at the end of this set as she gets a tandem block with Emiliano and then a kill of her own to tie the set up.  

Lepescu gives RGV their first set point with a left side kill.  Then, Bryant answers back for Tarleton and the set will go to extras.  Tied at 24.  Key with a kill and the Vaqueros have another set point.  A Texan error gives the set to RGV 26-24.  Key had 5 kills and Zech 4 in the Vaqueros first set win.  Schirpik and Fitzmaurice with three errorless kills a piece to pace Tarleton.

Set 2:

Tarleton needs to get their kill leader Allison Bryant going.  She hit negative in the first set and has touched the ball 14 times, but only has two kills.  It's been a battle of left-side attackers so far in this match.  Lupescu for RGV with six kills hitting over .350 and Schirpik and Fitzmaurice without and error for Tarleton.  RGV 8, Tarleton 7.

Tight second set.  Tied at 10 after a McDonough kill for the Texans.  As the set moves to the middle portion, neither team can slow the other down.  RGV at .353 for the set and Tarleton at .288.  RGV holds a slim lead 13-12.  Claudia Lupsecu has been really impressive in this match. She has 9 kills and is hitting .412.  After Natalie Reyes posts an ace, RGV has a three point lead at the media timeout 15-12. 

The Lupescu onslaught continues and forces Tarleton into a timeout right after the media break. RGV on a 5-0 run now and the Vaqueros lead 17-12.  Time for Tarleton to fight back if they want to avoid going down two sets at the half.

RGV's offense running really smooth right now.  They lead first to 20 at 20-15.  Tarleton not serving tough enough to get the Vaqueros out of system much and RGV passing well.  Hitting .462 in the set. 

A short break in the action to take a look at RGV libero Perez.  Perez already wearing a hip wrap in this match came up a little lame in a rally.  After a short break, she seems okay and play resumes. Tarleton takes a timeout after Zech gets a kill for RGV and McDonough errors for the Texans.  RGV 22, Tarleton 17.

RGV takes control at the end of the set with a block by Giani and Key and then a Santos kill gives RGV their first set point.  After Tarleton gets a side out, RGV ends the set 25-18 with a Giani kill. RGV leads at the half 2-0. Lupescu, who has 10 kills with just one error and is hitting .450 has been the star of this match so far.

Set 3:

Tarleton grabs an early 8-4 lead after an RGV service error, Fitzmaurice kill and then a Burke ace. The Texans maintain momentum and the lead as we near the midway point of set three.  Two Vaquero errors in a row have the Texans up 11-6.  Then, RGV has to take a timeout as Fitzmaurice gets another kill and Tarleton has double up the Vaqueros 12-6 in the set. Fitzmaurice up to 7 kills and Schirpik has six errorless strikes for Tarleton. 

The Vaqueros are trying to make a comeback.  After a Lupescu kill, she then slams down an overpass and has her team within two.  Tarleton 14, RGV 12.  The Tarleton lead then evaporates completely as Maldonado errors for Tarlton and then Lupescu gets a solo block on a tight Tarleton set.  The Texans take a timeout as we are now tied in the set at 14.

Tarleton goes on a 4-0 run as Burke gets a block, then Bryant - who has played better - takes over the team lead in kills with 8, then McDonough kills a right side attack and Santos errors for RGV.  Tarleton 18, RGV 14.  Key now in double figures after two straight kills.  Texans want a timeout as RGV has crawled to within one at Tarleton 22, RGV 21.  Tarleton has led the majority of the set, but RGV trying to steal it here at the end and complete the sweep.

Bryant gets two kills and is up to 9.  Tarleton has three set points to play with.  Burke wastes no time in getting a block to cut the set lead in half.  Tarleton wins the set 25-21 and now RGV has two sets to the Texans one.

Set 4:

Tarleton grabs the early set 4 lead.  Burke got an ace to give the Texans and early two point lead.  Frank and Fitzmaurice then got a tandem block.  Giani tried to close the gap for RGV with a kill and then a Bryant return error got the Vaqueros close at Tarleton 6, RGV 5.  But Tarleton pushed back and forced Todd Lowery to send in DeAssis for the first time in the match for Nadine Zech, who is hitting .000. Two aces in a row by Tarleton libero Matti Theurer gave Tarleton a five point lead at 10-5 and the Vaqueros had to stop the action with a timeout.

Tarleton, as they have for the last several weeks, showing tons of emotion and a Bryant kill, her 10th has the Texans pumped up.  They lead 13-8 half way through the set trying to send this to five. Madison Frank has had a huge set for the Texans.  She gets her third kill of the set to go along with a block and then another ace by Tarleton, this time by Burke has Tarleton WAY up on RGV now 16-8 and threatening to run away with the set.  RGV in trouble here in Set 4.

Frank gets a solo block, her 6th total block of the match and Tarleton remains in control at 18-10.  Looks like we are going 5!  Despite Lupescu nearing 20 kills, Tarleton is content to play the side out game in this set at this point.  They lead 23-16 after a McDonough shot from the right side runs the tape and falls in.  RGV challenges the McDonough shot and they win the challenge.  Call reversed and so Tarleton has a 22-17 lead.

Tarleton trades points and then gets a Santos service error to give them set point.  They've got plenty to play with after they were in the net making the score 24-19.  A Bryant kill ends it and Tarleton takes Set 4 25-19 and has a chance at a reverse sweep.

Lupescu has 20 kills and 9 digs to be one shy of a double-double.  Key has also played well and has 14 kills.  Emiliano has 46 assists in four sets.

For Tarleton, Bryant and Fitzmaurice each have 12 kills.  Fitzmaurice is two digs shy of a double double and setter Hodges needs one dig for a double-double as well.

Set 5:

Teams trade points early on.  Neither side taking control.  Tied at 5 after Key's 16th kill for RGV. Key gets another key and Bryant errors long for Tarleton and Mary Schindler can't wait for the switch to get her team a little breather.  She wants a timeout as RGV has a 7-5 slim lead.

Giani blocks Burke and the Vaqueros have an 8-7 lead at the switch. Burke and McDonough get a block on DeAssis that followed a kill by Fitzmaurice, her team leading 14th and now Tarleton has taken the Set 5 lead.  Tarleton 10, RGV 9.  Timeout RGV.

Giani goes up for a big strike that lands close to the corner.  It's ruled in, but Tarleton wants to challenge.  The call is overturned in Tarleton's favor and Tarleton has 1n 11-9 lead.

Burke tandems with McDonough on Tarleton's 12th block of the match and they have the lead 12-10, but Perez is down on the floor hurt for RGV.  Getting trainer attention. Perez gets lifted off the floor by coach Todd Lowry and a trainer.  Hoping for the best.  She is really hurting - that's obvious.

Error by Tarleton makes it 12-11 in their favor.  This is going to the end.  

Fitzmaurice kills makes it Tarleton 13, RGV 11. Santos kill.  Tarleton 13, RGV 12.

Lupescu with a monster kill to tie the match at 13.  She has 23 kills and 9 digs.

Net violation on Tarleton that they will challenge.  Perez left quad being iced on the sideline after coming off.  RGV call stands and they have match point.  Key blocks Fitzmaurice for the RGV win and they stave off the Texans trying for a reverse sweep.  RGV wins Set 5 15-13.

Final: RGV 3, Tarleton 2.

Lupescu is the star with 23 kills.  Key had 17. Emiliano had 53 assists and Perez, who had to exit with injury posted 23 digs.

For Tarleton: Fitzmaurice had 15 kills, Bryant 12 and McDonough 10. Hodges with a double-double with 33 assists and 10 digs. Madison Frank had seven blocks.

(3) RGV will face off with (2) Grand Canyon in the semis tomorrow.  Time to get prepared for Radio!  Listen in as SFA tangles with ACU.  Start time moved to 5:12 CT.

(7) California Baptist vs. (2) Grand Canyon

First Serve: 10:03 MT

Set 1:

Early on, GCU HC Tim Nollan challenged a touch call and GCU got the point overturned when the R2 determined a back row block occurred during the rally.  GCU 3-1.  Parrott started hot getting four kills in her first five swings.  GCU 5-1.  GCU was first to 10 as Wise/Jerue trade service errors.  GCU 10-6.  The teams then played a side out game to get the score to GCU 12-8, but then Catherine Krieger got two quick kills and at the media time out the GCU lead was down to 15-13.

GCU is siding out at an 80% clip and after a ball-handling error on GCU setter Reed, GCU has a four point lead 19-15.  At times in this set, CBU has struggled to pass and has been out of system a decent amount of time.  Parrott continues her onslaught as CBU is forced into a timeout after Parrott drops in her 8th kill of the first set on a tip.  GCU 22-16.  Biggest lead for the 'Lopes in the set.

CBU comes unravelled a bit down the stretch in Set 1. The 'Lopes make only three attack errors in set 1 and the Lancers don't consistently pass well.  GCU takes the first set and wasn't pushed all that hard at any point.  25-17.  Parrott 8-0-13 (.615) and GCU doesn't make a left-side error in the set.

Set 2:

CBU shakes up the rotation to start set 2 and starts out with Brown (S), Posada (RS) and Krieger (OH) all on the floor.  CBU continues to struggle on first contract and passing and miscommunications between setters and hitters are piling up in the match.  GCU 6-2.  GCU with no aces, but they continue to force the Lancers into bad options on first touch.  CBU has to take a timeout as the 'Lopes have built an early 11-5 lead.

Half way through Set 2 and GCU is up 12-7.  Parrott does not have a kill in the set as of yet.  That can't be a good sign for the Lancers.  Rola drops in an ace for CBU after two Walewska kills and CBU has the GCU lead down to three, 12-9 'Lopes.

Krieger having a good offensive match for CBU so far (6-0-10, .600).  GCU 15-14.  The Lancers take a timeout after they commit back to back attack errors - one by Chandler and another by Jerue.  GCU up 18-14.   CBU needs to keep testing Parrott in serve receive.  She hasn't passed to many really clean balls in this match.  GCU constantly playing from four to five points behind.  After a Mauser error, GCU is first to 20.  GCU 20-15.

Jerue is aced by Bella Anderson of GCU and CBU is letting the second set slip way.  22-15 GCU.  Anderson on a strong service hold.  GCU ends the set on a 7-0 run on really strong serving.  GCU has a two set lead and wins Set 2 25-15.  For the second straight set, CBU fades down the stretch.

At the half, Grand Canyon is hitting .400.  That combined with the Lancers inability to run their offense has spelled trouble so far.

Set 3:

Zany start to Set 3 as Chandler Gorman clearly hit a ball into the tape creating four touches for CBU, but it wasn't called.  Then, Parrott gets an assist on a crazy back set to give GCU at 5-2 lead.  Attack errors really mounting for the Lancers.  They have 14 and GCU only with 5 in the match so far.  After a challenge goes CBU's way, Grand Canyon's lead is two at 6-4.  After Parrott's 13th kill and a Gkiourda ace, GCU has a 9-5 lead. Uhlenhop adds a kill and the Lancers want their first time out down by five.

CBU looks done after another Parrott kill, this time from the back row and then a back-row attack after a poor CBU pass.  Grand Canyon's lead already six in the set, half way through at 12-6.  Parrott and Lifgren only have one attack error each as GCU continues to control the momentum up 13-8.  CBU really struggling now on offense.  After back to back errors by Rola and Posada, CBU takes a timeout with GCU up six, 15-9.  The Lancers are all the way down to .129 hitting now for the match.  GCU hitting a blazing .421.

The Lancers really haven't been able to get Michalina Rola going in this match.  She's hitting negative as Parrott continues to roll.  She gets her 15th kill and needs three digs for a double double with GCU up 17-11.  

Grand Canyon really hasn't been pressured in the match at all.  CBU got the 2nd set to one point a few times, but GCU has always had the answer.  They look like they are going to cruise to a quarterfinal win.  Up now 21-13 and Set 3 looks in control.  Just a few more points and the 'Lopes will have their sweep.

GCU getting in some subs now.. Frey in at OH, Reed in at MB and Schmitt in to serve as DS.  Tim Nolan using the blowout as a chance to get some bench players some PT.  GCU 22, CBU 16.  

Putting in the subs backfires a bit and Nolan has to return Parrott to the floor.  Reed called for net violation after a Frey error gets CBU to within two.  An ace by Rola and now the lead is down to one.  Parrott answers will kill number 16 and GCU pushed back out 23-21.  Parrott gets her final kill, her 17th and then an error by Posada gets GCU set 3 25-22.

Final:  GCU 3, CBU 0.  GCU advances to play the winner of UTRGV/Tarleton in the semis.

Parrott hit .593 and GCU as a team hit .366.  CBU led by Krieger with nine errorless kills while hitting .667, Mauser chipped in 8 kills.