Vaqueras Hosting WAC Tournament
By Bryan Ramos
One year ago, the UTRGV Volleyball team shocked the world by winning the Western Athletic Tournament as a fifth-seed, clinching the first NCAA Tournament berth in program history. Now, the Vaqueras (16-11) are set to defend their championship and they’ll get to do it on their home court, where they are unbeaten in 10 matches thus far.
As of November 16th, 2017, UTRGV is hosting the WAC Volleyball Tournament where the top-six conference teams will converge inside the UTRGV Fieldhouse to compete for a shot at the NCAA tourney.
UTRGV sophomore outside hitter Barbara Silva, who was named to the All-WAC Second Team for her play this season, said the team can look back on the experience gained during last year’s championship run while defending their throne this season.
“We know the important thing is WAC Tournament, we’re defending the title at home so that’s a big thing,” Silva said. “We can look at last year, nobody expected us to go there and play with our hearts and win. Now, we’re defending the title. WAC Tournament is going to be here, we got to play good, so the whole team is really excited and I think it’s going to be a really good tournament.”
The first-round is kicks off with No. 4 California State University, Bakersfield taking on No. 5 Seattle University, followed by No. 3 Utah Valley University meeting No. 6 University of Missouri-Kansas City.
This time around, UTRGV clinched a first-round bye as they earned the No. 2 seed after posting a program best 10-4 conference record and finishing a perfect 10-0 at home. UTRGV Head Coach Todd Lowery, who has turned the volleyball program around in just three years, said the team plays its best in front of a home crowd as the girls have spent time connecting with the Valley community.
“We’ve been good here for a while and it’s because we have good girls,” Lowery said. “The girls have connected with people around campus, they’ve connected with kids in the community, and when there’s a crowd in the stands and they’re cheering for you, it’s like a seventh person. When we bid for the WAC Tournament, we felt like this was our year to do something special and we’re happy to have it here at home and with a great opportunity.”
The Vaqueras will square off against the winner of UVU-UMKC on Friday at 7 p.m., with No. 1 seed New Mexico State University facing the winner of CSUB-SU at 4:30 p.m. The championship match is slated for 7 p.m. Saturday.
UTRGV has gone 3-1 combined against No. 3 UVU and No. 6 UMKC, their potential semifinal matchups. On UTRGV’s Senior Day Nov. 4, the program honored seniors Bojana Mitrovic and Tina Sekulic who have helped establish the Vaqueras as a force to be reckoned with.
Mitrovic, who was named to the All-WAC First Team along with teammate and fellow outside hitter in junior Ragni Steen Knudsen, said this team is her favorite that she’s ever been a part of and is looking forward to putting on a good performance in front of their home crowd.
“I think the crowd gives us a lot of energy,” Mitrovic. “Every girl on this team likes to play here because we have people that care about us and we like to put on a show for them. I think we just have a good chemistry here in our gym.”
The trio of Mitrovic, Knudsen and Silva earned all-conference honors. Mitrovic led UTRGV with 13 double-doubles on the year, posting a total of 319 kills and 270 digs to earn first-team honors for the third consecutive season. Knudsen led UTRGV in kills on the season with 377, averaging 3.62 kills per set to go with 219 digs. Silva averaged 2.84 kills, .94 digs and .66 blocks per set in her sophomore season after being named an All-WAC Freshman honoree last year.
Along with co-captain Alexandra Ecker, middle blocker Veronika Jandova, setter Dubravka Vukoja and San Antonio native and libero Gysell Zayas, UTRGV has it’s most talented team, which Lowery knows are more powerful when playing with passion as one unit.
“They understand now when they play together as a team, they follow the game plan and they just sell out and play with emotion, they’re a very hard team to beat when they trust each other,” he said.
Tickets can be purchased at the UTRGV Fieldhouse box office. Single-session tickets are available and cost $12 for adults, $7 for youth (ages 3-12) and UTRGV faculty and staff (with valid ID), and free to WAC students (UTRGV students with valid ID) and children 2 and under.
UTRGV will take the court Friday at 7 p.m. with their opponent to be determined later this afternoon.
For more information, visit GoUTRGV.com.