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Photo courtesy UTEP Volleyball Twitter

H-P Sports In Depth: UTEP Volleyball Hosts First of Two Tournaments

The UTEP volleyball team will host its first of two tournaments this Friday, Sept. 1, and Saturday, Sept. 2, when Memorial Gym opens its doors to New Mexico, Youngstown State, and North Dakota for the first-ever Glory Road Invitational.

The round-robin tournament will pit UTEP (0-2) against New Mexico (2-1) on Friday at 7:30 p.m.. and Saturday will feature a double-header for the Miners. First, UTEP will battle Youngstown State (4-0) at 1 p.m., then the home team will meet with North Dakota at 7:30 p.m. to close out the tournament.

All matches will be played at Memorial Gym. Due to equipment damage sustained from Friday’s storm during a soccer match, there will be no live stream of the matches, but live stats will be available.

Admission for the tournament is $5 for adults and $3 for children.

LIVE STATS: http://www.sidearmstats.com/utep/wvball/

GLORY ROAD INVITATIONAL BREAKDOWN
The Inaugural Glory Road Invitational on Sept. 1-2 will feature host UTEP, New Mexico, North Dakota and Youngstown State. There will be six matches played during the two-day event at Memorial Gym. Youngstown State (visitor, light jersey) and New Mexico (home, dark jersey) will open the Invite on Friday at 11 a.m. Youngstown State (visitor, dark jersey) will play its second match on the day against North Dakota (home, light jersey) at 5:30 p.m. UTEP will open its weekend against New Mexico at 7:30 p.m. North Dakota (home, light jersey) and New Mexico (visitor, dark jersey) will commence Saturday’s matches at 11 a.m. UTEP will then host Youngstown State at 1 p.m. and North Dakota at 7:30 p.m. to conclude the weekend. A tournament guide, including practice schedules, can be found at www.utepathletics.com on the women’s volleyball page under the “More+” link.

New Mexico Scouting Report
Series: Friday’s match will mark the 42nd meeting between the old conference foes, with New Mexico holding the all-time record of 33-8. The New Mexico Lobos finished the 2016 season with a 16-16 overall record, 6-12 Mountain West Conference record.

Lobo Notables
New Mexico has a few veteran players returning for the 2017 season, including senior Ashley Kelsey and junior Victoria Spragg. Kelsey, a libero, lead the Lobos in defense with a team-leading 523 digs (4.29 digs/set), the third-most in a single season in program history. The senior was also named to the UNM Invitational and USF Invitational All-Tournament teams. Spragg, a middle blocker, will also lead the charge in defense for the Lobos. Spragg lead the team with a season high of 118 blocks (0.99/set), she was also named to the UT Arlington Invitational All-Tournament Team.

Youngstown State Scouting Report
Series: Saturday’s match will mark the first time UTEP and Youngstown State have meet. The Youngstown State Penguins finished the 2016 season with a 8-22 overall record, 2-14 Horizon League Conference record.

Penguins Notables
Youngstown State looks to return seniors Sam Brown and El Paso native Lauren Blanco for the 2017 season. Brown, outside hitter, registered 278 kills (2.53 kills/set) and career-high 262 digs (2.38 digs/set) season in 2016 for the Penguins offense. Blanco, a libero, was named Team’s Best Defensive Player and was the first libero to earn academic all-conference honors in program history. Varcolla, a middle, finished the season with a team-high of 117 blocks (1.06 blocks/set).

North Dakota Scouting Report
Series: Saturday’s match will mark the second meeting between the Miners and Fighting Hawks, with North Dakota holding the 1-0 advantage. The North Dakota Fighting Hawks finished the 2016 season with a 26-10 overall record, 14-2 Big Sky Conference record.

Fighting Hawks Notables
North Dakota looks to return seniors Faith Dooley and Sydney Griffin for the 2017 season. Dooley, a middle hitter, finished the 2016 season with 476 blocks, 12 shy of the UND all-time record (488). Griffin, a setter, delivered 1,316 in 2016, 19th-most in NCAA Division I. Dooley and Griffin also competed in the 2017 U.S Volleyball Collegiate National Team tryout. Fraase, a libero, was named Academic All-Big Sky and ended the 2016 season with 583 digs, charting one of the best seasons in UND history.

FIVE-SET HEARTBREAKER
The Miners will enter the Glory Road Invitational looking to bounce back from Wednesday’s heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Texas Tech at home that ended in extra points in the fifth set in Memorial Gym. The Miners took set one 25-23, but dropped back-to-back sets 25-20 and 25-18 to the Red Raiders. The Miners had a huge comeback to take set four 25-23 and forced Texas Tech to extra points before ultimately falling 18-16.

ON THE HUNT FOR WIN NO. 1
UTEP will be hunting for their first win of the season during this weekend’s play. The Miners dropped two games at the North Texas Invitational last weekend against very competitive Montana and Tulsa teams. First scheduled to play at the I-10 Cardinals Classic, the devastating Hurricane Harvey forced host Incarnate Word to cancel play on Thursday, leaving the Miners without a tournament. They were extended an invitation to play in the North Texas Invitational in Denton, Texas on Friday, hopping on a plane that same day to face Montana that evening. The Miners took the Grizzlies to four sets, but dropped the match 3-1. Saturday’s match up pitted them against old Western Athletic Conference and Conference USA foe Tulsa. The sets were a shoot out, but Tulsa came out with the 3-0 sweep. Another close match came at the home opener against Texas Tech on Wednesday, with the Red Raiders prevailing 3-2.

KING DOING KING THINGS
Amanda King is putting up big numbers through three matches in 2017. She is recording 7.75 assists per set, which was helped by a 48-assist performance in the five-set thriller against Texas Tech on Wednesday. King is also tied for the squad lead in block assists (10), tied for second for total blocks (10) and places fourth on the team in digs (13-1.08 digs per set). The setter has managed 10 kills as well, which earns her a share of fifth on the squad.

THE DEBUT OF JONES
True freshman Cheyenne Jones has been making her presence known at the collegiate level. The powerful hitter has been a force on the Miners’ outside, hammering down 25 kills (2.08 k/s) at a .135 clip, ranking second on the team behind Macey Austin. She has also recorded two service aces, seven digs and 10 block assists. Jones currently leads the team in points with 32.

EXPERIENCED TEAM RETURNS
Nine of the 13 players on UTEP’s roster are returning players, while the Miners add four freshmen to the mix.

ANALYZING THE DEPTH
Outside Hitters
UTEP has the most depth in the outside position with a total of five outside hitters. Junior Ashley Grzebeniak is the only upperclassman that returned, bringing two years of experience and coming off a 148-kill season. The Miners are also loaded with sophomores Macey Austin, who was named to the 2016 Conference USA All-Freshman, and El Paso native Briana Arellano. In 2016, Austin started in 21 of 30 matches and led the team in kills (280) while Arellano saw action in 29 matches, starting in 14 contests. Sophomore Ali Vidali also returned and brought one year of experience and is continuing to develop as a player after appearing in 49 sets. Freshman Cheyenne Jones also joined the group. The 6-foot-1 Missoula, Montana native brings tremendous size and power and is anticipated to make an immediate impact to the team.

Middle Blockers
At the middle blocker position, the Miners returned juniors Kylie Baumgartner and Maddie Morgan and add freshman Mallory Yost. Baumgartner brings two years of experience and once again led the Miners in blocks with 111 total (18s/93a) in 2016. Morgan also has two years under her belt, knocking down 102 kills and tallying 30 total blocks last season. Yost adds size to the position at 6-foot-1 and should see plenty of playing time as the Miners work to develop her to the collegiate-level pace. She finished her high school career with 816 kills at a .377 hitting efficiency, 182 digs, 151 blocks (56s/95a), 11 assists and nine service aces.

Setters
Senior Amanda King filled the void left with Lindsey Larson’s departure. The senior, who transferred to UTEP last season from Palm Beach State, made 25 starts in 30 matches and dished out 371 assists at a 3.28 average assists per set. As a six-rotation player, King also registered 192 digs, 18 kills, 14 service aces and 32 points. Joining King will be freshman Sahara Martinez. The newcomer from La Verne, Calif., totaled 1,987 assists throughout her high school career and will help King in the rotation.

Defensive Specialists
On defense, UTEP returned sophomore Niki Cebak, who brought one year of experience after taking the court for 29 matches with 10 starting appearances. Cebak registered 150 digs in 2016 and will be joined by senior Dania Orozco. The El Paso native transferred to UTEP last season from New Mexico Military Institute and saw action in 23 matches, accumulating 50 digs. Freshman newcomer Abby Adams joined the group. The trio will work to fill Sarah Villa’s spot, who, as the starting libero in 2016, recorded 553 digs at 4.89 digs per set to lead Conference USA.

HITTING THE BOOKS
UTEP proved they were hitting the books as hard as the volleyballs when they were announced as a recipient of the 2016-17 American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Team Academic Award in July. The award honors teams who have matched their dedication to the sport of volleyball with excellence in the classroom. The award, which was initiated in the 1992-93 academic year, honors collegiate and high school volleyball teams that displayed excellence in the classroom during the school year by maintaining at least a 3.30 cumulative team grade-point average on a 4.0 scale. The AVCA Team Academic Award, celebrating its 25th year, is the single largest award offered by quantity of schools, players and coaches honored. Since the 2000-2001 season, the number of recipients have increased every single year but two, while amassing a 532 team increase over the span of the last decade. Since the award’s inception in 1993, the amount of award winners has increased from 62 to its current number of 822.

CONFERENCE HONORS
Three Miners were recognized by Conference USA for their efforts during the 2016 campaign. Lindsey Larson and Sarah Villa, both seniors last season, were named to the C-USA Second Team while Macey Austin earned a spot on the C-USA All-Freshman Team. Larson concluded her collegiate career as UTEP’s all-time leader in assists (2,677), service aces (71), total blocks (317) and block assists (292) while ranking second on the list in assists per set (6.17). Larson was also honored for her outstanding dedication in the classroom after being named to the Conference USA All-Academic Team for the third time. She sported a 3.93 GPA in civil engineering and was a regular member to UTEP’s Dean List and the C-USA Commissioner’s Academic Medalist list. Larson started in all 82 sets and is the only one in the league to notch a triple-double in 2016. Larson has registered a total of five triple-doubles on the season and 15 total double-doubles, the second-most in C-USA. Villa made her way to the list after denting the school record books for digs (1,369) and digs per set (3.71). Villa also holds the conference record for most digs in a match with 45. After a breakout year, Austin was named to the All-Freshman team and led the Miners in kills (280) and kills per set (2.64). With three years of collegiate eligibility left, Austin already ranks 10th on UTEP’s all-time kills list and fifth for kills per set. Austin will be anticipated to lead the Miners on the front court.

STUDENTS FIRST
Though 11 of 12 players were named to the Conference USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll, three secured C-USA Commissioner’s Academic Medals for maintaining a GPA of 3.75 or greater. Lindsey Larson, Macey Austin and Briana Arellano received the medal, Larson for the third time and Austin and Arellano for the first. Larson was also named to the C-USA All-Academic team. The three were also starters for the Miners.

EL PASO’S VERY OWN
The 2017 roster features two players from El Paso—defensive specialist Dania Orozco and outside hitter Briana Arellano. Orozco is a 2014 Americas High School graduate and joined the team last season after transferring from New Mexico Military Institute, where she played for two years. The senior tallied 50 total digs last season and added a service ace and an assist. Arellano is a 2016 graduate from Canutillo High School and found immediate success as a freshman on the UTEP squad, knocking down 95 kills and picking up 220 digs, making her the leading defensive returner for the Miners.

AUSTIN’S POWER
After a breakout rookie year, sophomore Macey Austin will be anticipated to continue her dominance at the net. Austin led the team in kills (280) and racked up 2.64 kills per set in 106 sets played as a freshman last season. She also registered double-digit kills in 14 matches including a season-best 18 kills twice. For her efforts, Austin was named to the 2016 Conference USA All-Freshman Team. The six-foot Keller, Texas native ranks 10th on UTEP’s all-time list for kills.

RETURN TO THE ‘SHIP
The Miners earned a spot at the Conference USA Championships for the first time in two years last season, a feat they look to repeat in 2017. The team earned the eighth and final spot for the tournament, which paired them with top-seeded and eventual champion WKU, who swept the Miners. A year of experience later, however, the team now knows what it takes to make the tournament and what to expect. The Orange and Blue will return nine letterwinners from last year’s championship-bid team, including seven who saw action at the tournament.

FILLING THE VOID
Three key players, Lindsey Larson, Sarah Villa and Tatum Winter, were lost due to graduation. The Miners will now reload this year to fill the void. Senior Amanda King, who transferred to UTEP last season, will take over Larson’s setter position. King dished out 371 assists in 113 sets and added 18 kills and will look to add more in her leadership role. Niki Cebak and Dania Orozco will be in line to fill the libero spot left from Villa. Cebak played in 96 sets and picked up 150 digs, while Orozco played in 41 sets and tallied 50 digs. Abby Adams, a freshman, will also be in the runnings. Winter, a middle blocker, got help from juniors Kylie Baumgartner and Maddie Morgan. Baumgartner led the team in blocks for the second straight year with 111 (18s/93a) and Morgan added 30 to the mix. The pair will be joined by Mallory Yost, who comes to UTEP after recording 151 blocks during her high school career.

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