DENTON, Texas – The last time the Miners walked out of North Texas with a win was 1994 when Norm Brandl was head coach.
Five coaching changes later, UTEP found its victory inside the cramped North Texas Volleyball Center under head coach Ben Wallis in his second year.
“It felt amazing,” Wallis said. “I’m proud that we walked out of here with a well-earned victory and split with this team.”
UTEP volleyball (5-4, 4-2 C-USA) overcame a five-set loss Sunday to defeat North Texas (5-7, 2-4 C-USA) in five sets, 3-2 (16-25, 25-15, 26-28, 25-21, 15-13), Monday afternoon.
In the Mean Green’s penultimate point of the opening set which they won, 25-16, the Miners lost starting libero Hula Crisostomo to a left leg injury. Freshman Alyssa Sianez took her place and donned her emergency libero jersey before the start of the second set.
Siañez, in her first full set of action this spring season, dug four balls – 32 total in the match – with zero reception errors.
UTEP jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the second set behind three kills from junior Paulina Perez Rosas and ended the frame on a 6-0 run with Conference USA’s service ace leader Ava Palm at the service line. The Miners hit at a .429 clip in the second set behind four kills apiece from Perez Rosas and senior Cheyenne Jones.
“The fact that we were without one of our best leaders (and) Alyssa Siañez had to go in there and be the man (is impressive),” Wallis said.
The Miners were up by as much as four points in the third set, 19-15, when the Mean Green clawed their way back to knot things up, 22-22. UTEP and North Texas matched each other’s point until the twenty-sixth.
The third frame went to the Mean Green, 28-26, in extra points – just like Sunday’s match.
Again, UTEP dug itself into a 2-1 hole.
Matters worsened in the fourth set when Wallis and assistant coach Andrea Beaty received a pair of yellow cards after North Texas head coach Andrew Palileo followed the advice of the Mean Green crowd – which played a role in the ten double-hit violations called on Sunday – to challenge a point.
The point stood as called and remained in the Miners’ favor as they took a three-point lead, 12-9. But now, UTEP had to play the remainder of the contest without its coaches roaming the sidelines as Wallis and Beaty were forced to sit.
“I looked at (Palileo’s) team and my team,” Wallis said. “I didn’t know if my team was tough enough to get nasty and go win this on their own.”
After the warnings, the Miners’ offense generated nine kills over their last 13 points in the 25-21 set win while the Mean Green had just five kills in their last 12 points. Six of UTEP’s kills were assisted on by junior Kristen Fritsche and freshman Hande Yetis who both finished the match with 29 assists, respectively.
The Miners went into their second fifth set in two days, without their digs leader Crisostomo and Wallis patrolling nearby, hoping for a different outcome after yielding five attack errors and two reception errors in the fifth on Sunday.
UTEP took a 6-1 advantage with the help of two kills from sophomore Alianza Darley.
“Yesterday, we were in the fifth set and I think we gave up earlier,” Darley said. “In this fifth set, we were up 6-1, and all of us … were fighting for each point. That’s why we got the win today – because we were all fighting for the point together.”
The Mean Green seized momentum with a 9-3 run of their own, taking the lead 11-9. Two points later, a kill from junior Serena Patterson put Perez Rosas at the service line and she remained there as the Miners strung together four points off three kills from Patterson and a service ace from Perez Rosas.
Defensively, in the fifth set, Perez Rosas and Palm – who was in the six-rotation spot today – each dug five balls and Siañez dug another three.
“(Palm, Perez Rosas and Siañez) took a bigger role (on defense),” Patterson said. “With the holes in the blocks, they stepped up and dug a few balls off the floor which helped a lot.”
A weekend after UTEP defeated UTSA for the first time in ten years, it achieves another milestone in its series with North Texas.
“What I learned about my team today was that they are tough enough,” Wallis said.
Up next, UTEP volleyball hosts Rice in Memorial Gym on March 14 and 15 following a bye week.