Photo by Ruben R. Ramirez | El Paso Herald Post
UTEP volleyball, the number 2 seed in the West (9-6, 8-4 C-USA), squares off with number 3 seed out of the East, Marshall (10-4, 8-4 C-USA) in round one of the Conference USA Tournament Thursday, April 1, at 1 p.m. MT in Hattiesburg, Ms.
The Miners will go for their first Conference USA Tournament victory since 2008 when UTEP defeated Memphis in the first round.
“Things get tougher on you in the conference tournament because there is no (guaranteed) tomorrow,” head coach Ben Wallis said. “That’s where you hope your culture and your leadership and your team’s dynamic – playing hard for each other – is going to help get you to the next game.”
The match will be available for streaming on ESPN+.
Last time out, the Miners swept a C-USA opponent for the third time this season when it defeated Southern Miss twice in straight sets with its best hitting percentage outputs to date last Friday and Saturday. The Miners’ latter victory clinched the second seed in the C-USA Tournament – UTEP’s highest seeding since its first-place finish in the Oil Country Athletic Conference (OCAC) in 1984.
The Miners are currently riding a four-match winning streak and have won 12-straight sets.
UTEP hit for a collective .370 Friday and topped that with a .429 hitting percentage Saturday.
The Miners opened the second match with their highest hitting percentage in a set this season at .524. Six Miners recorded at least six kills. In addition to freshman outside hitter Ava Palm’s team-high 11 kills, she led the team with two aces, 15 points, 12 digs and 28 receptions. Junior outside hitter Serena Patterson picked up 10 kills of her own on 17 swings while redshirt sophomore middle blocker Kenidy Howard added nine kills on just 12 swings.
Sophomore middle blocker Alianza Darley swatted four block assists in each match last weekend.
Similar to UTEP, the Thundering Herd are entering the conference tournament on a four-match winning streak after sweeping both Florida Atlantic and Old Dominion. Marshall was swept earlier in the season by the top team in their division in Western Kentucky.
Marshall ranks third in C-USA in attacks/set (35.24) but are ninth in kills/set (11.94) and have the seventh-best hitting percentage in the conference (.209).
The Thundering Herd’s points and kills leader is outside hitter Ciara Debell with 209.0 points and 189 kills. Debell recorded 19 kills in three sets in her last meeting with the Miners on Oct. 25, 2019.
Defensively, Marshall is fourth in C-USA in blocks/set (2.19), led by middle blocker Destiny Leon with a C-USA second-best 1.31 blocks/set. Libero Sarah Schank ranks first in the conference in digs/set (4.87).
“We’ve got good teams on the west side of our division that have challenged us defensively this year,” Wallis said. “I feel like we’re pretty prepared in order to be able to make changes and do things differently against them.”
The all-time series between the two programs rests in Marshall’s favor, 11-8. UTEP most recently defeated Marshall in three sets last season in Memorial Gym.
Patterson recorded a double-double with 16 kills at a .325 clip and 13 digs. Darley also hit for a .667 clip with eight kills. Howard picked up a team-high five blocks in the match.
For complete coverage of UTEP Women’s Volleyball, be sure to follow the Miners on social media at @utepvb (Instagram) and @UTEP_VB (Twitter) or click here to visit the official home of UTEP Athletics.
WHERE THE MINERS RANK IN C-USA/NATIONALLY
- First in C-USA, 16th nationally in aces/set (1.91)
- First in C-USA, 29th nationally in aces (109)
- Second in C-USA, 40th nationally in kills/set (13.65)
- Second in C-USA, 44th nationally in assists/set (12.56)
- Fourth in C-USA in hitting percentage (.237)
- Third in C-USA in opponent hitting percentage (.173)
- Senior outside hitter Cheyenne Jones is seventh in C-USA in hitting percentage (.362)
- Junior setter Kristen Fritsche is 10th in C-USA in assists/set (6.02) in the Miners’ two-setter system
- Freshman outside hitter Ava Palm is first in C-USA, 18th nationally in aces/set (0.53) and fourth in C-USA in aces (27)