DENTON – UTEP volleyball (2-2) split its doubleheader on Saturday with a win against North Texas (1-1), 3-2 (18-25, 13-25, 26-24, 25-21, 15-12) and a loss against Stephen F. Austin (8-2), 3-1 (16-25, 25-23, 21-25, 24-26).
In match one, the Miners rallied after dropping the first two sets against the Mean Green to win the remaining three sets. UTEP was unable to force a fifth set in match two with SFA, losing the fourth set in extra points, 26-24.
The contest against North Texas marked the second UTEP victory over its conference foes since the Mean Green’s arrival to C-USA in 2013 with both wins coming under coach Ben Wallis. The Miners’ previous win came on November 10, 2019 (3-1).
“That’s a big win for us,” Wallis said. “That’s a top-four team in (C-USA). When we took the job in 2019 to when we finished our season last year in seventh in the conference and to our goals coming into this season, we wanted to be one of the top-four teams in the conference. … Not many people come to Denton and beat them on their home floor so I’m really proud of my team to beat Texas State on their home floor where they don’t lose very often and then go to (North Texas) and beat them on their home floor where they don’t lose very often too. That shows me that I’ve got some competitive kids. We’re on the right track towards giving ourselves a chance to win this conference.”
Sophomore outside hitter Alianza Darley led the offensive attack for the Miners with 16 kills – one short of her career-high set in UTEP’s win over Texas State on September 12 (3-2). After seeing limited action two weeks ago against the Bobcats, freshman outside hitter Ava Palm picked up a then-career-high eight kills.
“Ava Palm was just spectacular hitting it,” Wallis said. “She has been getting better in the gym every day at the attacking stuff. She’s understanding more how to score. These two matches were really a coming-out party for her in terms of showing her versatility as an attacker both on the left and the right. She’s got a long way to go defensively and blocking it, but she’s a young person you’ve got to be excited about, and excited for. Our team was excited for her. Even though she’s a young person, she’s one of the most competitive people in our gym. She really likes to win, compete (and) play. She definitely helped us win the first match against North Texas and she almost helped us win the second match against Stephen F. Austin. She really put up big numbers today and I’m really proud of her.”
Later that afternoon, Palm spiked 10 kills – second-most on the team – against the Lumberjacks. Darley led the team in the category again.
The Miners complete their weekend action with a scrimmage against North Texas at 9:30 a.m. MT.
Coach Wallis’ Thoughts
“We knew not having (Cheyenne Jones) and (Irbe Lazda) here, we were going to have to find a little bit more of an identity on the right. So, we practiced this week with Patterson being a right because we knew we wouldn’t have two of our point scorers. We wanted to start out and be in a place where gave ourselves an opportunity to keep Serena on the left where she’s a little more comfortable. But, after the second set, we just weren’t functioning well and we needed more offense on the right because of the things North Texas does. So, we flipped Patterson to the opposite (and) put Ava Palm on the floor. … Darley helped us win the first match by just being more physical. She’s the best athlete in the gym most teams. She showed that in the first match against North Texas. We had a pretty good plan serving it, and we wore them out a little bit.”
“We just didn’t have the same juice in the second match, and I think we ran out of gas. In conference (play) in the spring, we’re going to have to play back-to-back against the same opponent, so being able to test your team’s resolve a little bit – I didn’t feel like we quit or got outplayed.”