File photo by Ruben R. Ramirez | UTEP
The UTEP volleyball team will open up its 2021 season by playing three matches in two days at the Idaho State Tournament Friday through Saturday, August 27-28.
The Miners will take aim at their first season-opening victory since 2018 when they battle UC Irvine at 4 p.m. MT Friday (Aug. 27). UTEP will then challenge Seattle at 2 p.m. MT Saturday (Aug. 28) and host Idaho State at 7:30 p.m. MT Saturday (Aug. 28) to wrap up the weekend.
“I think we have some pieces and components to be really good offensively,” UTEP head coach Ben Wallis said. “I think we’re further ahead offensively than we were last year, which is nice to see because we were a pretty good offensive team. We’re a long way away block and dig, that’s just the facts. We’re going to have to be much better defensively and lock in. We just have to buy into it more. If we can do that, we’re going to be a pretty tough team to beat.”
UTEP bounced Grand Canyon, 3-1, in its lone exhibition match of the year on Aug. 21. The Miners won the first (25-21), second (25-22) and third (25-11) sets, while Grand Canyon took the fourth set (21-25) in a pre-determined four-set contest.
Newcomer Yasso Amin led the offensive attack with a team-high 12 kills and .571 attacking mark. Paulina Perez Rosas notched 10 kills (.526) nine digs and a block, while Ema Uskokovic and Serena Patterson each added to the scoring effort with eight kills each.
Kristen Fritsche and Hande Yetis combined for 48 of the Miners’ 53 assists. Alyssa Sianez had a team-best 11 digs and four assists. UTEP tallied 6.0 total blocks as a unit compared to 2.0 blocks by the visiting Lopes.
This is the first meeting between UTEP and UC Irvine.
UC Irvine will be playing its first regular-season match since 2019 when it squares off with the Miners. The Anteaters had lots of injuries that played a big part in them finishing 5-23 in 2019 before having last year wiped out by COVID. UC Irvine also added a pair of newcomers to the roster for this year. It knocked off Mountain West foe San Diego State, 3-2, in an exhibition match on Aug. 21.
Seattle won the lone match-up against the Miners, 3-0, in 2014.
Seattle U was 2-10 last season, with all of its matches being contested with Western Athletic Conference play. The program enters 2021 in search of its first winning season since 2015 (18-11). The Redhawks bring back the bulk of their team, including their statistical leaders from last year in kills (Eve Kerschenbaum-93), assists (Ezgi Ozkan-357) and blocks (Lauren McCabe-17). Seattle U also added a pair of graduate transfers and two freshmen.
The series is tied, 3-3, between UTEP and Idaho State, with the two sides last locking up in 2012.
Idaho State finished 4-14 last year, including 2-14 in Big Sky action. After a 4-4 start to the season, the Bengals dropped their final 10 matches of the campaign. ISU did, though, go 4-6 at home. It returns its leader for kills (Kennedee Tracy-157), assists (Andri Dewey-453) and digs (Mahala Bradburn-159). The Bengals also added three newcomers, including a pair of transfers.
UTEP returned 13 players from last year’s team that locked up the program’s first winning season (10-7) since 2012. Leading the way is 2020 All C-USA second-team honoree Serena Patterson and 2020 C-USA All-Freshman team member Ava Palm. The Miners bring back five of their six top producers for kills in 2020, including the leader Patterson (174). UTEP also added seven newcomers.
UTEP returns its statistical leader for every major category. The Miners bring back their top performer for kills (Serena Patterson-174), total attempts (488-Patterson), hitting percentage (Patterson-.230), assists (Kristen Fritsche-377), digs (Paulina Perez Rosas-147), solo blocks (Kenidy Howard-eight), block assists (48) and total blocks (51).
This weekend marks the first of four tournaments that the Miners have on tap for nonconference play, including the Borderland Invitational (Sept. 3, 5) which will be co-hosted by NM State and UTEP. The Orange and Blue will also partake in the Portland State Tournament (Sept. 10-11) and the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Tournament (Sept. 17-18).
Just this week, UTEP’s Serena Patterson was named to the C-USA Preseason Team, as announced by the league office. She had a banner year last season, earning placement on the 2020 All C-USA team. She paced UTEP in kills (174), total attempts (488) and hitting percentage (.230), to help the team notch its first winning season since 2012. She was also second on the team in total blocks (31.0) and sixth in digs (61). Additionally, UTEP was tabbed second in the C-USA West Division. That marked their highest preseason placement since joining the league in 2005.
The Miners are aspiring to post their second straight winning season, something it hasn’t achieved since back-to-back such campaigns in 2011 and 2012.
If the Miners are able to finish above .500 in C-USA action, they’d lock up consecutive winning marks in league action for the first time since 1983 and 1984 when they were a part of the Oil Country Athletic Conference. Last year UTEP was 8-4 in conference play, with the .667 winning percentage the second highest in program history.
UTEP is coming off a historic season in Ben Wallis’s second year as head coach. The Miners locked up their first winning campaign since 2012. They also claimed their initial victory at the conference tournament since 2008, doing so as a No. 2 seed which was their best seed since 1984.