LA Tech vs UTEP Volleyball, Memorial Gym, El Paso TX, October 13, 2019, Andres Acosta / El Paso Herald-Post
Head coach Ben Wallis put together the best turnaround by a first-year coach in program history, taking the Miners from their five win 2018 season to 13 in 2019.
The Orange and Blue had a year they have not seen in quite some time. They made the conference tournament for the first time in three seasons, and had their highest finish in the conference standings since 2012.
“In a number of ways I feel like our city, our administration, university, support staff, families and people who were around the program that knew what we were facing have been unbelievably supportive,” Wallis said. “They have also been very complimentary of how our year went. In most ways when I look at our season I am very pleased and proud of what we did with this group, considering the state of the program when we took it over.”
“I am disappointed in our record. I felt like when I looked at our schedule and roster that we could win 15 or 16 matches. We fell short of my personal goal and my staff’s goal. We never told the players that. We never asked them to meet a specific win number. But they set a goal and they set a number that they fell short of as well. To get to 13 wins and 15 losses against the schedule that we had is a success from where our program started,” Wallis added.
“I do wish we were able to knock off some of those really tough opponents like NM State, Pacific and Bakersfield. Those three losses stick out in my mind as opportunities that could have given us a truly unbelievable year. I am proud of what we put out there and the way we reshaped our program. We turned this team into a team that expects to win and not just keep it close. At one point against Rice in the conference tournament I looked at my players in a timeout, and I saw a look in their eyes that they knew they could win.”
UTEP also made a monster leap in the national RPI rankings. It was ranked 249 at the end of last season out of over 330 teams. 2019 saw a more than 100-spot leap into the top 150.
The Orange and Blue won seven matches in non conference play, which was one more than the last two season combined. This was the first time they posted a non conference record above .500 since 2011.
Wallis and the Miners also boasted a winning record at home with a 6-3 record in historic Memorial Gym. This is the first winning record in the Sun City since 2013, where UTEP posted an identical .667 winning percentage.
“Our home attendance was something I was most proud of this season,” Wallis stated. “Our home attendance got us into third in the conference in average attendance. That makes me extremely proud to know that in the better part of six months we were able to get the city of El Paso excited about our team. It also helped us win to have everyone there. We went 6-3 at home, and gave people major issues when they played here. We beat two top-100 teams on our home floor with a roster of kids with very little experience in those games. I am hopeful that in the future that this will be a tough place for people to play.”
Cheyenne Jones made big improvements in her game under Wallis. The junior became just the fifth player in UTEP volleyball history to make the C-USA All-Conference second team. Jones posted career highs in kills (259), hitting percentage (.242), total blocks (74) and points (303.0).
Mallory Yost also had a career year, posting career bests in kills (198) and total blocks (90). The junior also increased her hitting percentage by .087 points, hitting .324 for the year.
Additionally, the Miners saw some history with the weekly awards handed out by the conference office. Irbe Lazda became the first player in program history to be named C-USA Freshman of the Week, and Serena Patterson was the first C-USA Offensive Player of the Week since 2013 for UTEP.
“To be able to get Cheyenne (Jones) on the all-conference team, and to have Serena (Patterson) and Irbe (Lazda) win conference players of the week was great,” Wallis said. “We had several all-tournament team participants, and getting into seventh place in the conference after being 12th last year shows a significant amount of improvement.”
During the conference tournament the Miners took a set off of the No. 21 team in the nation Rice Owls. This was the first set victory over a ranked opponent since 2001.
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