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H-P Sports In Depth: UTEP Volleyball Opens Conference Play at Home

The UTEP volleyball team will begin Conference USA play when it hosts Rice and UAB during a two-game home stand this weekend.

The Miners will host the Owls on Friday, September 22, at 6 p.m. in Memorial Gym and round out the opening weekend of conference play against UAB at noon on Sunday.

The Miners wrapped up non-conference action on Tuesday against rival NM State in Las Cruces, where the Aggies got the best of the Miners in three sets. Freshman Cheyenne Jones paced the Miner offense with eight kills, followed by Macey Austin with six and Ali Vidali with five.

Amanda King and Sahara Martinez split the setter duties, with King dishing out 14 assists and Martinez adding 10 of her own. Almost every Miner who stepped on the court recorded a dig, with Briana Arellano leading the defense with 11 while libero Niki Cebak followed with eight.

The Miners had three service aces on the day, one apiece from Mallory Yost, Arellano and Cebak and also recorded eight block assists, including two from Yost and two from Austin.

UTEP will be looking for a jump in conference standings with the opening weekend and to improve a 3-10 record. The Owls are 10-4 in non-conference action and the Blazers will put their 6-9 record on the line when it meets with Middle Tennessee on Friday prior to Sunday’s matchup.

Fans can get into Friday’s match for free if they bring a canned food.

Live stats will be available for both matches and Sunday’s match will be live streamed from Memorial Gym.

LIVE STATS  | LIVE STREAM AGAINST UAB

RICE Scouting Report
Series: Friday’s match will mark the 43rd meeting between the Owls and Miners, with Rice holding the all-time series lead 33-9. The two first met twice in 1983, first at the Texas Centennial Open in Austin, Texas, when the Owls beat the Miners 3-0. They met again that same year, with Rice taking the match 3-1. They last met on Oct. 23, 2016, when the Owls took a 3-1 victory in Memorial Gym.

OWL Notables
Rice is coming off a five-game winning streak, including three victories that led the Owls to the Rice Adidas Invitational title. The team leaders for the Owls include outside hitter Nicole Lennon with 214 kills and 132 digs so far this season. Lennon was also named Conference USA Freshman of the week for the second time this season as well as the MVP for the tournament after recording 20 kills or more per game and three double-doubles.

Alongside Lennon will be junior McKay Kyle with 121 kills and 32 block assists so far this season. Meanwhile, sophomore Lee Ann Cunningham, a 2016 C-USA All Freshman team performer and C-USA Defensive Player of the Year, has taken care of the defense with 283 digs so far this season. With a 10-4 record, the Owls lead conference in digs per set (17.4) as well as kills per set (13.5) are looking to showcase that when they open conference games against UTEP.

UAB SCOUTING REPORT
Series: Sunday’s match will be the 19th meeting between UAB and UTEP, with UAB holding 12 wins and UTEP the other six. The two first met in 2003 at the Fiesta Bowl Tournament in Flagstaff, Ariz. when the Miners ran away with the 3-2 victory. They last met on September 25, 2016 when the Miners beat the Blazers 3-2 in Birmingham, Ala.

BLAZER NOTABLES
The Blazers dropped to 6-9 after a 3-1 loss to instate rival Alabama State on Sept. 19. Prior to the setback, UAB had won three consecutive matches after a 3-8 start to the 2017 campaign. The Blazers took down Mississippi Valley State (3-0), Western Carolina (3-1) and New Orleans (3-0) during the win streak (Sept. 15-19).

Overall on the season, the Blazers rank fourth in Conference USA in team blocks per set (2.22), while ranking first in C-USA in kills (792) and third in total digs (882). The Blazers also ranks first in C-USA in assists (718). UAB ranks sixth in hitting percentage (.225) and opponent hitting percentage (.190). Senior OH Erika Zembyla ranks seventh in C-USA in aces per set (0.39), while also ranking first in conference in total service aces (22). Junior MB Victoria Young ranks sixth in C-USA with 1.06 blocks per set.

Senior OH Jared Haley leads the squad in total attacks (539), while also leading the Blazers in kills (180), points (199.0) and points per set (3.55). Freshman OPP/OH Petra Silic ranks third in C-USA with a .385 hitting percentage. The Blazers will open their C-USA slate on Sept. 22 at Middle Tennessee before taking on UTEP.

BATTLE OF I-10 RECAP
The UTEP women’s volleyball team fell to rival NM State 3-0 in the FirstLight Federal Credit Union’s Battle of I-10 at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces, N.M on Tuesday. The Miners kept it close, but the Aggies prevailed 25-19, 25-19 and 25-18. Freshman Cheyenne Jones paced the Miner offense with eight kills, followed by Macey Austin with six and Ali Vidali with five.

Amanda King and Sahara Martinez split the setter duties, with King dishing out 14 assists and Martinez adding 10 of her own. Almost every Miner who stepped on the court recorded a dig, with Briana Arellano leading the defense with 11 while libero Niki Cebak followed with eight. The Miners had three service aces on the day, one apiece from Mallory Yost, Arellano and Cebak and also recorded eight block assists, including two from Yost and two from Austin.

In total, the Miners recorded 29 kills, 26 assists, 46 digs, eight block assists, and three service aces. The Aggies notched 41 kills, 39 assists, 47 digs, 20 block assists, and four service aces.

Arellano’s all-around game
Sophomore outside hitter Briana Arellano has shown she can play all-around, picking up 11 digs against the Aggies to lead the team. It was the fourth time Arellano recorded double-digit digs in a match, with her season-high being a 14-dig performance against Portland at the Nike Invitational last weekend, and currently has 91 digs on the season. Arellano also tallied two kills and once ace.

VIDALI GOES FOR FIVE
Ali Vidali recorded a season-high five kills against NM State and also added five digs to bring her season total to 26 on the season. The sophomore outside hitter grabbed 5.5 points for the Miners during her perfomance, with the half-point coming from a block assist.

FRIDAY NIGHT PROMOTIONS
Fans can enter Friday’s match against Rice for free if they bring canned goods to donate. Friday will also be “Noche Latina” and will feature a mariachi performance and salsa dancers during the intermission between the second and third sets.

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