Pablo JuarezSports Editor
Jennifer ChiMercury Staff
Volleyball team clinches ASC East title, set to host conference tournament
With a 3-0 victory against East Texas Baptist University on Oct. 20, the volleyball team secured the ASC East division title — the eighth in program history. The Comets (27-2, 11-0) will now get to host the ASC tournament, which is scheduled to take place from Nov. 5 to 7.
After being slotted only for five home games all season, senior setter and captain Kayla Jordan said she finds it refreshing not having to travel to open the post-season.
“I think we got pretty used to traveling this year, so I don’t think it would have been that big of a deal if we had to travel,” she said. “But, you know, it feels good to be able to do the conference tournament in our gym and have our own fans there.”
Despite losing senior starting outside hitter Meredith Crawford to injury early in the season, head coach Marci Sanders is pleased with the multiple players who have managed to improve in her absence in order to avoid any drop-off.
“Kristyn Schott has been on the outside for us all year as a freshman,” Sanders said. “Abbie Barth has really stepped up into Meredith’s spot. Those two kids have just stepped up for us. It’s interesting because they kind of balance each other out. One will be having a really good game and the other might be struggling. If we could ever get them on the same page, it’ll be a lot of fun.”
The team is currently first in the NCAA in assists per set for Division III, averaging 13.58 — indicative of the up-tempo playing style the coaching staff has tried to implement. Jordan is leading the attack, averaging an individual 11.81 assists per set — an NCAA best.
“Our defense is really awesome this year,” Jordan said. “It helps to have such great defense because then we’re able to run the offense how we want to. With our faster offense, we’re able to get more kills which lead to more assists.”
The losses against Southwestern and Pacific Lutheran are two that Sanders feels could have gone in UTD’s favor if not for a certain coaching approach and a shift in the line-up.
“With Southwestern … I think I probably over coached them a little bit in the fifth set, and so I’m just letting them do their thing right now,” she said. “In the Pacific Lutheran game, I really wish I had changed the line-up to what we’re doing right now. Had I done that, I think the outcome would’ve been different.”
The Comets finished the season undefeated in ASC play (11-0), the first time since the program’s 2009 campaign and the second time overall in 12 years.
“I told the girls after we had seen everybody that I feel the only team in our conference that can really beat us is us,” Sanders said.
Sanders explained that there has been a culture change in the program with the current squad compared to previous ones. A word that the coaching staff is frequently using to describe the team is composure.
“You’ll hear sometimes (athletic directors) tell coaches not to recruit kids with character that aren’t characters,” she said. “I’ve had another coaching mentor say you want to recruit characters with character and I think that’s definitely what we have. I think we have a lot of good characters on our team. (We) just have to trust that we’re a good team.”
As the team prepares for the post-season, their relationship with Kaitlyn Johnson — a 5-year-old cancer survivor that the team adopted this season through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation — has been especially noteworthy.
“I think having the whole Kaitlyn thing that’s going on with us … is helping keep things in perspective,” Sanders said. “I think that has helped motivate the kids to understand there’s bigger and more important things going on in the world than winning or losing a volleyball match.”