Photo by Ruben R. Ramirez / UTEP
UTEP volleyball (7-6, 6-4 C-USA) faces Southern Miss (9-8, 4-6 C-USA) in its regular-season finale in Memorial Gym Friday and Saturday, March 26 and 27, at 12 p.m. and 11 a.m. MT.
“This time of year, for good teams that are trying to position themselves in the right places for conference tournament stuff, there’s always a little bit of pressure on you,” head coach Ben Wallis said. “If you don’t handle that well (then) you don’t deserve to go the conference tournament to play for a championship.”
The series will be the Miners’ final tune-up before the Conference USA Tournament April 1-3. Both matches will be available for streaming on C-USA.TV.
Wallis said these matches have the utmost importance due to conference tournament seeding implications.
“The best teams that win championships deal with the pressure,” Wallis said. “(My team) understands that in order to get in into a better place seeding wise they need to win both of these matches.”
Should the Miners defeat the Golden Eagles in both matches, they will have clinched the second seed in the West Division – UTEP’s highest seeding in a conference tournament since 1984 when they were in the OCAC.
However, if the Miners lose a match, they will fall to the third seed, and if they lose both matches, they will not clinch a berth in the tournament.
“Saturday doesn’t matter at all right now,” Wallis said. “It’s all about Friday and turning our attention there and doing our jobs appropriately.”
UTEP completed its second series sweep of the season following its win over Louisiana Tech (1-19, 0-12 C-USA), 3-0 (25-21, 25-22, 25-17), in the Thomas Assembly Center March 22.
The wins marked both the first time the Miners won in straight sets in back-to-back matches since October 2013 as well as the first straight-set sweep of an opponent since October 2012 when UTEP accomplished the feat against Houston.
Three Miners finished with a team-high 11 kills: senior outside hitter Cheyenne Jones, freshman outside hitter Ava Palm and junior outside hitter Paulina Perez Rosas.
In addition to her 11 kills, Palm dug out 10 balls to give herself back-to-back double-doubles for her third of the season.
The Golden Eagles were swept in their last series versus North Texas on March 21, 3-0, and 22, 3-1. The Miners splits their season series with the Mean Green. Southern Miss also split its two series with UAB and UTSA.
The Golden Eagles rank first in C-USA in digs/set (16.46) as well as first in attacks/set (37.43). Five players of Southern Miss have at least 100 digs. Libero Madison Lawler leads all Golden Eagles with 287 digs – the third-most in the conference.
“They have two defensive specialists they put on the floor (Lawler and defensive specialist Aliah Giroux),” Wallis said. “They try really hard to defend and put three defensive specialists out there to keep balls off the ground. We’re going to have to get four really good swings in order to get kills against these guys.”
Southern Miss’s leading outside hitter Duquesne Moratzka is seventh in C-USA in kills/set (3.52) fourth in attacks/set (10.73) but has just a .178 kill percentage. Moratzka most recently had a combined 19 attack errors versus North Texas on March 21 and 22 to hit a collective .091 on the weekend.
“(Moratzka is) just as long and athletic as some of the other outside hitters in our conference,” Wallis said. “She’s really understanding how to score against teams in our conference.”
The all-time series between the two programs rests in the Golden Eagles favor, 15-5. UTEP most recently defeated Southern Miss, 3-2, for the first time in six years last season on Nov. 3 in Wallis’s first season as head coach. Then-junior Cheyenne Jones powered a career-high 25 kills in the match.
WHERE THE MINERS RANK IN C-USA/NATIONALLY
- First in C-USA, 14th nationally in aces/set (1.98)
- First in C-USA, 30th nationally in aces (30)
- Third in C-USA in assists/set (12.27)
- Third in C-USA in kills/set (13.37)
- Fourth in C-USA in opponent hitting percentage (.181)
- Senior outside hitter Cheyenne Jones is 10th in C-USA in hitting percentage (.345)
- Junior setter Kristen Fritsche is 10th in C-USA in assists/set (5.92) in the Miners two-setter system; freshman setter Hande Yetis is 12th in assists/set (5.00)
- Freshman outside hitter Ava Palm is first in C-USA, 16th nationally in aces/set (0.56) and fourth in C-USA aces at 25
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