Miners volleyball to face top-ranked Western Kentucky in C-USA Tournament

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Miners volleyball to face top-ranked Western Kentucky in C-USA Tournament

Nina Titovets

Nina Titovets

Nina Titovets

Mike Flores, Reporter

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UTEP women’s volleyball team scraped their way into the Conference USA Tournament—the school’s first birth since the 2013-14 season. The top eight teams throughout Conference USA get the opportunity to participate every year and the Miners are coming in as the 8th seed.

 

Western Kentucky bullied their way to the unanimous 1st seed and UTEP will have to get through them to keep their 2016  heartbeat season alive in Houston, Texas, starting Nov. 18, at 11 a.m.

 

The Miners fought to the very last game of their season to represent El Paso in post-season play. They went 8-20 overall, and 5-9 in conference play—just enough to edge their way past the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, who were threatening to snatch the last spot in the tournament.

 

However, UTEP is playing their best volleyball of the season, and they picked the right time to shine brightest. In their last five contests, the women have come out victorious four times. From the ending of October to November 6th, the women posted their longest winning streak of the season by winning four in a row. They took care of business against the sixth ranked unit in the conference as they beat Florida Atlantic 3-1 before the regular season ended.

 

On the other hand, No. 20 in the NCAA top-25 poll Western Kentucky ran away with the regular season conference championship, leaving no doubt which team would come out with the number one ranked school.

 

The Hilltoppers, who in 29 games only lost two of their matchups all season, posted up a 27-2 record and performed flawlessly in C-USA games, going 14-0.

 

Before their 18 game winning-streak, WKU suffered their last loss in early September to the NCAA’s 13th ranked volleyball program, Michigan State, which was decided in five sets; it was not a give-me game for one of the top teams in women’s volleyball.

 

In the previous two seasons, the Hilltoppers have gone 6-0 in the Conference USA Tournament, and they also have two NCAA Tournament bids to their program’s archive.

 

Earlier in the season year, UTEP welcomed in the Hilltoppers to Memorial Gym on Oct. 21, and they cruised past the Miners, 3-0.

 

Regardless of the outcome, UTEP came out firing against the high-flying Big Red—forcing the first set of the matchup to dive into extra points where WKU finally slid their way to the 29-27 victory.

 

If they wish to upset the Hilltoppers, UTEP will need to disrupt the passing of WKU by making the top ranked team uncomfortable and getting them out of their system. WKU finds themselves in the top 6 in assists per set. And the junior 6-footer Jessica Lucas should be on the Miners’ radar all morning—her 11.73 assists per game is good enough to rank her in the top 4 in the nation. She received the C-USA Setter of the Week recognition five times during the year.

 

UTEP volleyball will need to ride their hitters to turn WKU’s pass-attack uglier than they presented all year as five of the athletes on the Miners’ roster have reached triple-digit kills so far.

 

Macey Austin and Lindsey Larson led the Miners’ charge this year as they have totaled over 200 kills. Their skills will need to be on great-display if the Miners have any shot at the upset.

 

Another lady on WKU’s players to watch is the outside hitter Alyssa Cavanaugh. She recorded 444 kills during the year. Cavanaugh’s strong junior outing earned her C-USA Offensive Player of the Week twice this season.

 

The Miners’ counter for Cavanaugh will likely be the senior defensive specialist Sarah Villa, who is first in the league in digs per match with 4.90 averaged, and 514 digs in her last season of play. The other Miner that will have to stand tall against the Hilltoppers’ attackers is sophomore Kylie Baumgartner. She is ranked sixth in the conference with 1.01 blocks per set. Baumgartner has a Defensive Player of the Week to her resume.

 

Come Nov. 18, the victor would enjoy their stay in Houston for another night, and then go head-to-head with the winner of the (4) UTSA vs. (5) FAU contest on Nov. 19 at 1:30 p.m.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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