Quick: Which Southland Conference school has the best all-time winning percentage in conference games? What, you say the answer is UT-Arlington? No, you goof, its Stephen F. Austin. But, who is second all-time? Now THAT would be UT-Arlington.
Do you realize however that UT-Arlington has won more regular season SLC Championships than any other school (12, next highest is us with 7). Also, did you know that UT-Arlington has won more SLC Tournaments than any other school? (10, next highest is Texas State with 5!) The Mavericks have won 45 matches in SLC Tournament history. And to think... Southeastern Louisiana has won none.
Why all this history? Two reasons. First, to remind you that UT-Arlington once absolutely dominated this conference in volleyball. They won nine straight regular season championships from 1982 to 1990. Then after 1990, the won the conference again in '92, '98, and '02. The second reason? They are an example of what SFA hopes NOT to become: A team that was once dominant, but has fallen by the wayside. See, UTA hasn't won the conference since '02 - their longest spell without a championship in school history. In recent years, they haven't been able to maintain their once stellar reputation and now sit as one rung above scraping the bottom of the SLC barrel.
To be fair, UTA has been decent at times this year. They've already won more games in 2009 than they did in 2008. They are certainly capable of beating anyone this side of Conway if the chips fall just right. Speaking of UCA...well, UTA DID beat the Sugar Bears last year in their trump card win on an otherwise terrible 3-13 conference mark.
This club isn't close to ending the drought. They pretty much put the same kids on the floor as last year and barring some big addition for 2010, the same will be true next year. What does it all add up to? Middle of the pack average-ness. Nothing more.
What do they bring back from 2008? Just about everything:
Kills: 81% (4th in SLC)
Assists: 98% (4th in SLC)
Blocks: 86% (2nd in SLC)
Digs: 86% (4th in SLC)
They return five or six starters depending on how you count on what is a very young team. They have only one senior, so youth is on their side. If a lot of the sophomores that they regularly start make huge gains over the next two years, then UTA may have something brewing in 2011, especially if they recruit some impact players in the near future. Their freshman for this year aren't contributing in any meaningful way. So what you see in 2009 may be what you get next year too -again, unless they bring in a ringer.
2008: 7-23, 3-13 SLC, Did not make the Conference Tourney
One of the biggest shocks of the 2008 season was when UTA beat UCA in Arlington. It was a real head-scratcher because the match before that win they had lost to Northwestern State in straight sets. They scored 13 points in one of those sets and only 11 in another! Then, after beating UCA - their very next match they lost to Southeastern Louisiana in straight sets. They scored 14 points in one of those sets and only 13 in another! That is almost unbelievable when I look back on it. Amanda Aguilera almost had a double-twenty that night against UCA (18 kills, 19 digs). UT-Arlington also beat McNeese - who beat us last year, but other than the two wins against UCA and McNeese, there were really no other reasons to write home.
Key Losses: Basically just one: Ally Wade. She was second on the team in kills per set. But still, as you see above, they retained 81% of their successful spikes. Freshman Lauren Carpenter is not back with the team this year either. She started a few matches and was a role player that contributed, but her top statistical claim to fame is that she was 5th on the club last year in digs - which probably wasn't worth typing.
Key Additions: Really, none. They do have three freshman on the team, but none of them have been instrumental in the Mavericks season to this point. Guys and gals, this is the same set of girls UT-Arlington ran out there last year with the only real exception being that sophomore Tara Frantz is playing the spot vacated by Wade.
Now, the maverick in you might look at the current SLC standings and say "Hold on there mister hot shot PA blogger dude.... UTA is 5-5 in SLC play and that's only one game behind us at 6-4, so they'd be tied with us if they pull off the trick and treat tomorrow night".
True. True. But, consider that UTA's conference record to this point is a tad bloated. They haven't played us, plus they have to play SHSU, Lamar and Texas State again and they have already lost to all three. Granted, those three are at home whereas the losses were on the road. They also have to play at UTSA to end the season. All things considered, UTA probably finishes the conference schedule under .500 rather than at or above. Worst case scenario is that TAMUCC is their only win left on the slate and they finish 6-10 in the SLC. Of course, even that will probably be good enough to return to San Antonio for the conference tournament. I mean, TAMUCC, Northwestern State and Southeastern Louisiana don't look like post-season teams to me.
Who to Watch: It might be tempting to single out Aguilera here based on her past, but she isn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard with that bing-089 hitting percentage she's got going. Early in the year, I told folks to watch for Bianca Sauls, and I still think she can be dangerous - she has more total kills than anyone on the team. But, I think I'll direct your eyes to sophomore Emily Shearin. She is averaging right at a block per set and hitting a decent .224 coming into tonight's match against McNeese. She also leads the team in service aces (and errors, mind you). There just isn't really a star on this team...not even in the way it was easy to tell you to watch for Yelena Enwere on the pitiful Northwestern State club. UTA just really doesn't have a "wow" type player. Shearin is their only player that is in the top 10 across the conference in a major statistical category. Well, except their setter (assists per set) and libero (digs per set), but really...there basically are only 12 setters and 12 liberos that start in the conference so top 10 isn't an achievement at those positions.
Possible Lineup: They should run out out the following list.... the previously mentioned Sauls, Frantz, and Aguilera at the hitters. Shearin and fellow sophomore Christy Driscoll at middle blocker. Then, Raegan Daniel at setter and another sophomore Alicia Shaffer at libero. That's a really young lineup - two juniors and five sophomores. Oh, and they will early rotate in their one senior Teena Sobczak who is UTA's version of our own Melissa Miksch. Sobczak is there to serve and hold down the back row during her half-way around rotations and she can attack if necessary.
Final Thoughts: The Mavericks and next Thursday's road game against the Demons are two good teams for SFA to get back on track against. But, after Thursday night's downright deplorable game against Texas State, I'll have to admit that I am looking at Saturday with a more scrutinizing eye. UTA lost in straight sets to McNeese while I was writing this article and they are currently on a bus our way I would imagine. They won't be fresh and they're not as talented as us. We should win.
But, SFA can't come out and play like they did on Thursday. Frankly, that was unacceptable. It was disgusting. It was one of the worst matches I can remember witnessing in recent days and the girls really should be embarrassed about what happened. And they should be mad. If you can't get peeved over a performance like that, then you just don't really care enough about winning and losing. I ain't sittin' here calling anybody out, but I think it's time to show a little more resolve. Otherwise... we've got no reason to complain if we go 'one-n-done' next month at the Convocation Center.