Above image of Corinne Novak provided by the UMHB Athletics Department
BELTON, Texas- The West division was won on Wednesday night, as the UMHB volleyball team locked up the division title and the right to host the ASC Tournament with back-to-back sweeps over Howard Payne to close out the regular season.
Instantly, the focus shifts to the immediate future, as the Cru gets set to host the tournament on its home floor for the fifth time in program history, as the No. 1 seed in the West. UMHB, which posted a 14-2 record this spring, enters as one of the favorites to claim the conference crown, though UT-Dallas, the No. 1 seed in the East, is a major threat, and has not yet been beaten with a perfect 14-0 record.
UMHB will play in its first match in the semifinals of the tournament on April 9 at 5 p.m. CT and face the winner of the quarterfinal match between LeTourneau and McMurry, which will be contested at noon that same day. The quarterfinal matchup has not yet been finalized, but just two conference matches remain on the slate in the ASC, as Sul Ross State will battle Hardin-Simmons in a doubleheader on April 6. The winner of that match will determine the No. 4 seed in the west.
Entering the doubleheader against Howard Payne on Wednesday evening, UMHB head coach Mark Pryor emphasized the importance of staying focused, despite the fact that the Yellow Jackets entered the matches 0-16 in conference play.
“It’s one of those things that you never can tell,” Pryor said. “Everyday is different. There’s really no transitive property in sports. You can’t go, ‘Hey, well we beat this team, and this team beat that other team, so we should be team C’. It doesn’t work like that.
“What we talked about all today was, ‘Alright, we need to focus on us, playing as clean as we can. We’re going to work on limiting unforced errors, really trying to hit with a little more efficiency and work in transition.'”
The Cru played with an efficiency that Howard Payne failed to overcome, hitting .319 with just 10 errors in the first match, and even better in the second, posting a hitting percentage of .360 with seven errors. UMHB won all six sets by convincing margins.
The opening match was highlighted by a 12-2 run in the first set, as UMHB held nothing back. The Cru came up victorious 25-15 in the set, and won the next two by scores of 25-10 and 25-11.
The victory sealed the division title, but Pryor’s team came out of the locker room with the same mentality in the following match, and earned a 3-0 (25-15, 25-20, 25-13) win.
Senior outside hitter Corinne Novak, playing the final regular season matches of her collegiate career, was strong offensively, tallying 12 kills in each match. The Georgetown, Texas native hit for a high percentage with just four errors on the night.
Adrien Valdez, a defensive specialist/libero, also played the final regular season matches of her collegiate career, as the senior will graduate in May. Valdez played all six sets, and posted 10 digs, and three service aces.
Pryor said postgame that the goal to win the West was the last on his team’s regular season checklist, as they continued to find success during the abbreviated spring campaign.
“We had three goals for the regular season,” Pryor said. “Our first goal was to qualify for the conference tournament, we did that a few weeks ago. Our next goal, was that we wanted to be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed during our first match. We did that a week and half ago, where at worst, we would be the No. 2 seed in the West. Things worked out to where if we just took care of one of them tonight, we would be the one seed, win the division and be able to host.
“For us, it’s kind of nice that we have a ‘things to do list’ where we can just check them off one at a time, and every program has those same goals. But the fact that we’re able to accomplish those is great.”
But there will be little time for the Crusaders to bask in their success. Preparation for the tournament begins first thing on Monday.
“On Monday, we start another ‘things to do list’,” Pryor said. “It’s real simple. Number one, is [to] get to play on Saturday. If we accomplish that, No. 2 is, finish. Finish on a good note.”