Photo: UTEP Athletics

UTEP Volleyball to Host Western Kentucky and Rice

The UTEP volleyball team (4-16, 2-5 C-USA) will return to its home court this weekend to take on a pair of matches.

First, the Miners will face a battle against the top team in Conference USA, Western Kentucky (20-2, 7-0 C-USA) on Friday at 6:30 p.m. (MT) and follow that up with a match against Rice (14-8, 6-1 C-USA) on Sunday at 12 p.m. (MT). Sundaywill mark the second meeting against the Owls this season.

The Orange and Blue was out of town last weekend making its tour through Texas. On Friday (10/14), the Miners were in Denton facing a tough North Texas team at the North Texas Volleyball Center. UTEP fought to keep up but the Mean Green came out on top by sweeping the Miners (25-20, 25-21, 25-11).

After the loss at North Texas the Miners headed to San Antonio to match up against UTSA for the second time in 2016. The match was played on Sunday (10/16) at the UTSA Convocation Center this time around but the match was point for point until the very end, similar to the battle in Memorial Gym two weeks prior (10/2).

Both matches went to five sets but the Roadrunners came out with the win in both instances. In the first match, UTSA handed UTEP a 22-25, 21-25, 25-14, 25-21, 10-15 loss and in the second meeting, the Miners fell 25-23, 21-25, 23-25, 25-22, 7-15.



UTEP vs. Rice



UTEP vs. Rice:


Series: Western Kentucky leads the all-time series over the Miners with a 4-0 advantage entering Friday’s meeting. The Lady Toppers are currently 20-2 and undefeated in C-USA action (7-0).


WKU’s offense is led by Alyssa Cavanaugh, an outside hitter from Louisville, Ky. The junior has hammered a total of 350 kills on the season while hitting at an impressive .353 clip. She has been named the C-USA Offensive Player of the Week two times this season. Her other totals include 41 blocks, 40 digs and seven assists. Jessica Lucas is the starting setter for the Lady Toppers and has achieved numerous accolades of her own. Just this season, she has been honored as C-USA Setter of the Week five times in addition to earning a Co-Setter of the Week honor on Oct. 10.

The junior’s totals include 842 total assists, 191 digs, 93 kills, 52 blocks and 10 service aces. Lucas is eighth in the national rankings with 11.53 assists per set and 19th for total assists. The Lady Topper’s strongest defensive weapons are Amara Listenbee and Georgia O’Connell. Listenbee is a sophomore middle blocker out of Beloit, Wis. Who has a team-leading 76 blocks (20s/56a) on the season. O’connell serves as a defensive specialist on the squad and paces the team with 312 digs and adds 17 service aces.


Series: The Miners are 9-34 against the Owls and this will be the second matchup between the teams this season. The last meeting took place on Sept. 23 in Houston, where the Owls defeated UTEP in a five-set thriller.



Rice’s offense is led by Chelsey Harris and Madison McDaniel. Harris is an outside hitter out of Houston, Texas who paces the team with 292 kills while hitting at a .319 clip. McDaniel is from The Woodlands, Texas and serves as the starting setter for the Owls. The junior has tallied a total of 869 assists this season and is second on the team with 265 digs. McDaniel was awarded the C-USA Setter of the Week honor on Oct. 17.

On defense, Rice is led by defensive specialist Lee Ann Cunningham and middle blocker Portia Okafor. Cunningham is a Louisville, Ky. native, who has accumulated 340 digs while adding 92 assists and 17 service aces. Okafor was also honored by the league this week by being named the C-USA Defensive Player of the Week (Oct. 17). The Lewisville, Texas native has blocked her opponents 102 times (29s/73a) this season and is second in the league in blocks per set (1.07).


This year’s Miner squad has a mix of youth and experience as the newcomers are providing impact along with the veteran members of the team. Freshmen Macey Austin has seen action in 68 sets, Briana Arellano in 64, Niki Cebak has participated in 62 sets and Ali Vidali has played in 35. Newcomer Amanda King is the only newcomer this season who has taken the court in all 75 sets this season.


UTEP’s matches against North Texas and UTSA last weekend completed the first half the C-USA season for the Miners, leaving seven conference matches left on the schedule. UTEP will host conference opponents for four of the seven remaining league matches while they will hit the road for three contests away from home against Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee and Marshall. Conference play will wrap up in the Cam Henderson Center against Marshall on Nov. 10.


UTEP’s freshmen have been making quite the splash in its first weeks of action. Macey Austin leads the UTEP pack with a team-best 175 kills while adding 28 digs, 18 blocks, two service aces and an assist on the season. Ali Vidali follows in suit. Her totals include, 67 kills, 29 digs, four blocks, three assists and two service aces. Briana Arellano has also proved to be force on the court with 145 digs, 43 kills, 15 service aces, five blocks and five assists. Niki Cebak has also made contributions of her own with 91 total digs, 11 service aces and 13 assists.



Canada is well represented on the Miners’ squad this season. Three athletes (Lindsey Larson, Ashley Grzebeniak and Niki Cebak) on the roster are natives of the country and have made a tremendous impact since their arrival at UTEP.  Lindsey Larson is a product of Humboldt, Saskatchewan and is the Orange and Blue’s strongest weapon with 2016 totals including a team-best in assists (369) and service aces (17).

She owns a second-best team ranking in digs (208), kills (160) and total blocks (64). Sophomore Ashley Grzebeniak is from Winnipeg, Manitoba and provides the Miners with a powerful swing. She has racked up a total of 85 kills, 59 digs, 15 blocks (1s/14a), four service aces and two assists so far this season.

Redshirt freshman Niki Cebak is the final Canada representative from Airdrie, Alberta. The defensive specialist has a petite appearance, but has shown to have a powerful swing from the serving line with 11 service aces this season. Cebak’s other totals include 91 digs and 13 assists.


Setter Lindsey Larson has made it a habit to reach double-digits in various categories in UTEP’s matches. She has reached a double-double in 13 of the Miners’ matches so far this season, which include five triple-doubles. She is second in conference in total double-doubles but she is the only one in the league to reach a triple-double. Amanda King is second on the team with a total of five double-doubles and Ashley Grzebeniak has notched one on the season.


Sophomore Kylie Baumgartner has been a force at the net all season and leads the squad with a total of 75 blocks (10s/65a), which is more than she registered in the entire 2015 season (51 total blocks). She currently ranks seventh in Conference USA with 1.03 blocks per set.

The California native, matched her career-high 10 blocks in a 3-2 win over UAB (9/25), which places her third in the league for most blocks in a five-set match.



UTEP has the most depth in the outside position with a total of six outside hitters. The Miners returned Ashley Grzebeniak who brings a year of experience. Ali Vidali is a redshirt freshman who sat out the 2015 season due to a wrist injury. Vidali is joined by El Paso native Briana Arellano and Macey Austin from Fort Worth, Texas who bring tremendous size and power as incoming freshmen.


At the middle blocker position, the Miners returned senior Tatum Winter and sophomores Kylie Baumgartner and Maddie Morgan. Baumgartner was named to the C-USA All-Freshman team in 2015 after tallying 128 total blocks, 165 kills and 20 digs in her breakout season.


Senior setter Lindsey Larson is a key cornerstone as a six-rotation player. In 2015, she led the team with 1,064 assists and 35 service aces while finishing second in digs (369) and blocks (11s/93a). Larson not only works hard on the court but on her studies as well. She is a four-time member of the C-USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll, three-time C-USA Commissioner’s Academic Medalist and a two-time C-USA All-Academic Team selection. Junior transfer Amanda King will also bring depth at the setter position this season.


On defense, UTEP returned Sarah Villa, an El Paso native who was the starting libero for the majority of the 2015 season. As a junior, Villa set the C-USA record for digs in an individual match with 45 in a five-set battle against Southern Miss. The Miners also have Dania Orozco and Niki Cebak. Orozco is also from El Paso but played two years at New Mexico Military Institute as the libero.


Lindsey Larson is one of four in the nation with five or more triple-doubles this season and is the only one in C-USA to reach one. Larson notched her first triple-double of her career as she led the UTEP squad to a 3-1 victory over Bradley (9/3). She totaled 25 assists, 17 digs and 10 kills while adding four blocks and a service ace. She recorded two more at the UT-Arlington Invitational.

Against Samford (9/16), the senior notched 22 assists, 13 kills, 11 digs and three blocks and versus UT-Arlington (9/17) her totals included 27 assists, 11 digs and 10 kills. In the league opener (9/23), Larson totaled 22 assists, 18 digs and 12 kills while forcing Rice to five sets. In the victory over UAB (9/25), she recorded a career-high in digs and blocks with 28 and eight, respectively and added 10 kills and three service aces.


The Miners have made their way back into the national rankings in various categories this season. According to the NCAA rankings that were updated on Oct. 18, Sarah Villa is 12th in the nation with 5.23 digs per set.

Lindsey Larson also cracks the national rankings as she is tied for third in the nation for total triple-doubles. Larson has registered a total of five triple-doubles on the season, trailing the top spot by only two.

Sophomore Maddie Morgan had an outstanding performance in a 3-1 victory over South Dakota State (9/3) in the preseason. She notched a .700 clip on 14 kills and is tied for the 13th spot for hitting percentage in a single match.