UTEP Volleyball Head Coach Ben Wallis announced the long-waited release of the Miners’ 2021 spring schedule featuring only Conference USA opponents Wednesday morning after seeing the program’s fall slate of matches canceled earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
C-USA instituted a “health and safety schedule” by scheduling matches on Sunday and Monday in an effort to limit exposure to another city for the traveling team.
“I was very pleased with the schedule when it came out,” Wallis said. “This year, though many of the teams in our conference are much improved, we feel like we have a good chance of being in the top-four of this western side of the (conference) and giving ourselves a shot at the (C-USA) Tournament at the end which is all you want to be able to do.”
The Miners enter the spring season at a 2-2 record with victories over the reigning Sun Belt Conference champion Texas State Bobcats (finished 34thin RPI in 2019) and North Texas who UTEP has only managed to defeat twice since the Mean Green’s arrival to C-USA in 2013.
“We got to see in the fall how close we really are,” Wallis said. “We beat Texas State who won the Sun Belt Conference, we beat North Texas who is a top-four-or-five program in (C-USA), and then losing a close one to Stephen F. Austin who is a conference champion as well.”
The 2021 schedule is highlighted by four matches against top-100 RPI opponents (Rice – 19, UTSA 88) while UTEP itself sits at 142 in the RPI rankings – a 106-position improvement from the Miners’ 248 slot in 2018 before Wallis’s arrival. The Miners will face UTSA and Rice in conference play on Feb. 21 and 22 and March 14 and 15, respectively. The Owls represented C-USA alongside Western Kentucky in the 2019 NCAA Tournament and advanced to the second round in the big dance after upsetting Oklahoma (Dec. 5). Rice finished with a 27-4 record, sweeping 19 of its opponents and at one point held an 11-game road winning streak which was third longest in the country.
“UTSA gives you fits because they try to do so much from the service line,” Wallis said. “They’re a really good defensive team. They make you work really hard to take three or four really good swings before you get a kill. We lost close to (UTSA) both times last year and the roster that we have now gives us a better chance to compete better athletically and offensively than what we had last year.
“Rice, obviously, with being the perennial team in the conference with Western Kentucky, they can recruit some of the best athletes in the country.”
Entering 2021 off an eight-win improvement from the 2018 season to a 13-15 (6-8 C-USA) record in 2019, Wallis said his program is poised to make another leap in success come spring.
“It’s a tough and unique spot for my staff and our program to be in,” Wallis said. “We set goal when we took this job to be in the top-five in the conference (by) year two. We made a leap from being one of the worst teams in the conference in year one to being one of the top six-or-seven teams in the conference in the first year. … For my program to turn around in one year and already make a big leap over a hundred points in RPI, the goal for year two is to be in the top five in the conference. … The way you measure that is you get to the conference tournament and you beat somebody.
“Last year, we didn’t have the roster to be able to (finish top-five). This year, I feel good about the roster and athletically where we’re at. Now we just have to tweak some skill stuff (and) some system stuff.”
UTEP opens the 2021 spring season at home in Memorial Gym against Southern Miss on Feb. 7 and 8 after last defeating the Golden Eagles in five sets on Nov. 3, 2019. The Miners venture on their first road trip of the season when they take on UAB the following week on Feb. 14 and 15.
UTEP returns to El Paso to face I-10 rival and first top-100 RPI opponent UTSA on Feb. 21 and 22 after being swept by the Roadrunners last season.
The Miners face North Texas for a second and third time on Feb. 28 and March 1 after defeating the Mean Green for the second time in program history in the fall season on Oct. 3 (3-2).
Wallis and his team have a bye for the following week to prepare for C-USA powerhouse Rice on March 14 and 15 in El Paso.
Then, UTEP will close the regular season at Louisiana Tech on March 21 and 22. Conference USA allocated March 28 and 29 for makeup matches should there be any postponements.
Southern Miss will host the 2021 Conference USA Tournament April 1-3.
Season tickets for all 6 home matches are currently available for only $35 each. Single-match tickets are also on sale for $8 each. Tickets can be purchased by visiting UTEPMiners.com/Tickets, by following this link or by calling the Eisenberg Family Ticket Office at 915-747-UTEP.
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