BELTON, Texas- With an approach centered around grit, the UMHB volleyball team captured a three-set sweep on Saturday afternoon, defeating longtime rival UT Dallas and winning the ASC Tournament.
The victory marks the fourth conference title in program history. UMHB and UTD had met in each of the last seven conference championship matches.
“All I know is that I’m still ticked off about losing to them at their place last year,” UMHB head coach Mark Pryor said. “It was going to be a battle. You’ve got two nationally ranked teams in the same conference. We’re just grateful they’re in the conference. It makes the conference better. “
“It felt amazing,” senior defensive specialist/libero Adrien Valdez said following the match. “We felt this when we were sophomores and wanted that badly today.”
The crowd was into it from the very beginning, with cheers from the crowd audible on every rise and fall of the ball. UTD jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but the Cru closed the gap, tying it twice before taking its first lead of the contest, 17-16. A 5-0 run by UMHB closed the set, and put the Crusaders in front 1-0, as they won 25-20.
The same pattern occurred in the second set, with the momentum and the lead exchanging hands. However, led by several key kills from the Cru’s outside hitters, UMHB mounted a game-sealing 9-2 run late in the set. Though UTD managed to hold UMHB at match point as the Comets cut the deficit to 24-18, a kill from UMHB outside hitter Hannah Frasca gave the Crusaders a 25-18 victory.
“It just showed that we can actually go on those runs,” Pryor said when asked about the 9-2 second set run. “That’s because of our defense. We’ve got a couple drills we call ‘Purple Heart’,.and they embrace those things.'”
Needing just one more set victory, the Crusaders upped their level of intensity. But UTD did the same.
Entering the tournament, Pryor emphasized to his team the importance of focusing on small, attainable goals. That approach greatly benefited the Crusaders as they never pumped the brakes, and played every set as if it was the last.
“It was kind of a culmination,” Pryor said. “We talked about our very small, attainable goals. First thing was the in the tournament, get a one or a two seed. Get a one seed, host, because we get a bye. Then the next goal was get to the final. We talked not about finishing, but finishing well.”
In a climatic ending, the Cru trailed 13-9 before rallying to score seven of the next eight points and took a 16-14 advantage.
UTD tied the score at 16, but trailed for the remainder of the match as home court advantage propelled the Cru to a 25-19 victory.
In a fitting finale, Frasca, the tournament MVP, rose above the net and fired a kill to seal the win.
Much of the third set was decided at the net as the opponents traded blows. Both sides blocked opposing volleys and hit for high percentages.
“They did a great job,” Pryor said of his middle blockers and outside hitters. “I was really impressed with Kynleigh [Browne]. She hadn’t played much, [but] came in and did a really great job. Kylie [Metcalf] came in towards the end, finished it up, and Kayla [Janikula] was just steady. Lauren [Williams] hit for a good percentage and then what can you say about Corinne [Novak] and Hannah [Frasca]? They hit it like men and that makes it a lot easier. They are not afraid to take a big swing.”
Novak and Janikula led the Cru with 10 kills each, and Browne had six.
Entering the match, Pryor was focused on his team playing its best, regardless of the opponent.
“I only gave them three things to look at,” Pryor said. “What we talked about was, ‘Can we be as good as we can be?’ If our best is good enough, it’s good enough. If it’s not, it’s not.”
Based on the fact that it was the Cru hoisting the championship trophy as the home crowd rose to its feet, it is safe to say that UMHB’s best was more than good enough.
“We had to focus on one day at a time, one set at a time, one point at a time,” Novak, who played the final match of her collegiate career on Saturday, said. “When we played yesterday, we didn’t think ‘We’re going to play tomorrow.’ We just thought, ‘We’re going to be the first to five.’ That was our mentality today. First to five, first to 10, first to 15.”
Said Valdez: “No matter who we were going to play, we were ready to do what we do best.”