With four seniors returning, UT Arlington coach Diane Seymour feels she has the tools needed to turn last year’s surprising conference tournament run into sustainable momentum.
She even has an historic anniversary to use as a reminder of the heights UTA’s program used to reach. She just needs her team to buy in, play fast and turn last year’s close call into the school’s first conference title since 2002.
If close calls are a sign of things to come, the 25th anniversary of UTA’s Final Four berth might provide a blueprint for making the leap from good to great.
From 1982-88, under the tutelage of eventual Arizona State athletic director Lisa Love, the UTA volleyball team went 199-78 and made four NCAA Tournament appearances. They earned Sweet 16 berths in 1986 and 1987 before getting into the Elite Eight in 1988.
Seymour was the captain of the 1988 team that climbed to fifth in the polls, but lost to Texas in the regional final. After the loss, Love left UTA for a job at USC, leaving first-year coach Cathy George in charge of the perennial power that just lost two of its most prolific players.
In charge of a team that lacked the same physical size as the top teams in the nation, George led UTA to its first Final Four appearance with a 3-0 sweep of Texas in the regional final.
“We really had to use our speed and tenacity to get an edge on teams that were 6-1 across the board,” George said. “We had to be tough.”
George got UTA to one more NCAA Tournament in her final four years there, and the Mavericks since have returned only twice.
There wasn’t a member of today’s UTA team born when the Mavericks were at their peak, but with festivities planned and former players returning to home games this season, the reminder of past glory is beginning to seep in.
“Looking back to that and seeing that UTA was even up there and seeing that banner whenever we’re practicing is awesome,” said senior Ashley Bennett.
While there isn’t a ton of height on this year’s roster, there’s talent, headlined by returning kill-leader Taylor Gross. She’s among four returning seniors, a powerful lefty (Stacey Koch) and a pair of freshmen (Qiana Canete and Ashlynn Ford) giving the team an athletic mix that should play well in the Sun Belt’s fast-paced style.
“You’re not going to get an easy match out of us, no matter if we’re playing our best volleyball or our worst volleyball,” Seymour said. “You’re going to have to beat us to win a conference title.”
After George proved in 1989 that playing tough and hungry pays, this year’s team has history on its side.
UTA volleyball key dates
|1986||Love||29-10||NCAA Sweet 16|
|1987||Love||32-7||NCAA Sweet 16|
|1988||Love||30-4||NCAA Elite Eight|
|1989||George||31-4||NCAA Final Four|