Photo: UTEP Athletics

UTEP Volleyball Set To Open Season At Oklahoma Invitational

One of the goals for the UTEP volleyball team is to make it to the Conference USA Championships this year. The quest will begin this weekend as the squad heads to Norman, Okla. to kick off the 2016 season at the Oklahoma Invitational.

The Miners will be joined by UMKC, Oral Roberts and Oklahoma for the two-day invitational.

UTEP begins tournament action on Friday at 4 p.m. (MT) against UMKC. It will face Oklahoma Saturday at11 a.m. (MT) and conclude the tournament versus Oral Roberts at 4 p.m. that day.

All three matches will be played at the McCasland Field House.



UTEP vs. Oklahoma:

UTEP vs. Oral Roberts:

TV: UTEP vs. Oklahoma: FSSW/FCS-Central


SERIES: This will be the eighth match between the Miners and the Kangaroos. UTEP holds a 7-0 advantage over UMKC since they began competing against each other in 1987. The last time the two teams met was in 2005 at the Cal State-Fullerton Titan Classic (09/02/05) where the Miners swept the Kangaroos 3-0.


UMKC returns two starters (Kaylyn Brandt and Madison Mosier) as the program finished with a 15-13 record for the 2015 campaign. Mosier provided strong efforts to the team as she averaged 283 kills (2.67 per set), while Brandt led the Kangaroos with 661 assists (6.24 per set). UMKC took down then-No. 4 Seattle, 3-2, in the quarterfinals of the WAC Tournament as the 2015 season was coming to a close.


SERIES: This will be the third meeting between the Miners and the Sooners, with the series tied, 1-1. During the 2015 campaign, Oklahoma swept UTEP, 3-0 at home during the Borderland Invitational at Memorial Gym. The Sooners finished with a 12-16 overall record, 6-10 in the Big 12 conference.


Oklahoma has established players returning for the 2016 season. Madison Ward and Marion Hazelwood, who are both Preseason All-Big 12 picks, lead the way. Ward tallied 277 kills (2.95 per set), and 244 digs (2.60 per set) during the 2015 campaign while Hazelwood boasted 229 kills (2.18 per set) and 118 blocks.


SERIES: This will be the 19th meeting between the Miners and the Golden Eagles,with the series tied, 9-9. The last time the two teams faced off was in 2013 during the UTEP Invitational in Memorial Gym where the Golden Eagles took the victory over the Miners, 3-1. Oral Roberts finished the 2015 season with a 14-16 overall record.


The Golden Eagles are picked fourth in the Summit League Preseason Poll, and return a pair of All-Summit League selections, junior Lucija Bojanjac and junior Laura Milos. Milos led the Golden Eagles and was best in the Summit League with 583 kills (5.07 per set) for the 2015 campaign.

Milos is currently the league’s all-time leader at 4.72 kills per set. Bojanjac tallied 1,242 assists and finished second in the league in assists per set (10.71).


Eleven of the 15 players on UTEP’s roster are returning players while the Miners add two freshmen and two transfers to the mix. There is a level of competitive depth to this program, thanks in large part to smart and consistent recruiting.



UTEP has the most depth in the outside position with a total of six outside hitters. Junior Dalainee Perry is the only returning upperclassman. She has two years of experience and is continuing to develop as a player. The Miners also have Ashley Grzebeniak and Idalis Rodriguez returning, who each bring a year of experience.

Ali Vidali is a redshirt freshman who sat out the 2015 season due to a wrist injury. Vidali will be 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 return 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 will be a key cornerstone as a six-rotation player. 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. Sophomore April Luther and junior transfer Amanda King will also bring depth at the setter position.


On defense, UTEP returns 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.


Senior Sarah Villa dented the Conference USA record books in 2015 by earning the top spot for digs in an individual match. The libero tabbed 45 digs while forcing Southern Miss to a five-set decision on Oct. 23, 3015. The El Paso native posted a total of 434 digs on the season and finished fifth in C-USA with an average of 4.34 digs per set.


The 2016 roster fashions a total of four athletes from the El Paso area, two more than last season. Senior Sarah Villa played for Burges High School before joining the UTEP squad in 2013 while sophomore Idalis Rodriguez joined the Miners in 2015 after graduating from Chapin High School earlier that year.

Dania Orozco and Briana Arellano are the latest additions to the list of local talents on the volleyball program. Arellano is a 2016 graduate from Canutillo High School and Orozco is a 2014 graduate from Americas High School. Orozco joins the team as a junior transfer from New Mexico Military Institute where she played for two years.


Senior setter Lindsey Larson has become the biggest contributor on the UTEP squad. The six-rotation player knotted 1,064 assists and triple-digits in three other categories. She registered 369 digs, 108 kills and 104 blocks while adding 35 service aces.

Since joining the Orange and Blue in 2012, she has recorded a total of 2,058 assists, 673 digs, 287 kills, 228 blocks and 47 service aces.


In addition to working hard on the court, Lindsey Larson also puts in the same effort into her studies, landing a spot on the C-USA All-Academic team for the second consecutive season with a 3.90 GPA in civil engineering.

The senior is a regular member on UTEP’s Dean List and appeared on the C-USA Commissioner’s Academic Medalist the past three years. She has also been named to the C-USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll from 2012-2015.


Kylie Baumgartner was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team last season, making it the second All-Freshman honor in head coach Holly Watts’ tenure. The middle blocker played in 116 sets and started in all 31 matches in 2015. Baumgartner finished third in the league and first on the squad in blocks per set (1.10) and 128 total blocks.


UTEP will open the year with 12 non-conference matches, including a pair of 2015 NCAA Tournament qualifiers (Arizona and Texas A&M). Following the Oklahoma Invitational, the squad will take its second road trip to take part in the North Dakota Invitational, which will include match-ups against North Dakota, Bradley and South Dakota State.

The Miners will then head to Lubbock to face Texas Tech before co-hosting the Borderland Invitational with New Mexico State. The Orange and Blue will open its home slate with a double-header against Texas A&M then Sacramento State in Memorial Gym while the remainder of the of the matches will be played in the Pan American Center in Las Cruces, N.M. The following weekend, the team will head to the UT-Arlington Invitational to take on Samford, New Mexico and UT-Arlington.

Conference play will begin on Sept. 23 against Rice in Houston, Texas. The Owls are one of the three squads the Miners will play twice during the season (Rice, UTSA and NM State). The Conference USA Championships are slated from Nov. 18-20 and will also be hosted by Rice in Houston. The Orange and Blue will finish the regular season with a match against I-10 rival NM State on Nov. 23.