UTD volleyball beats down Whitworth to advance in tourney

Photo by Yash Musalgaonkar | Mercury Staff.

The volleyball team got off to a fast start in its NCAA tournament appearance by taking down Whitworth 3-0 (25-20,25-13,25-19) in front of a raucous home crowd to improve to 31-2 on the year.

Coming into the game, the first-ever NCAA volleyball tournament game hosted on campus, the odds favored the fourth-ranked Comets against the unranked Pirates.

Still, the first set proved to be a little too close for comfort, as Whitworth battled back from a six point deficit late in the first set to force UTD to close out. Still, the Comets offensive prowess proved to be too much for the Pirates as UTD held out for a 25-20 victory.

Head coach Marci Sanders said she was glad to get that first set.

“I think that’s the biggest thing, especially when you’ve got half of your lineup as freshmen,” she said. “So I think those kids did a great job of kind of putting their nerves to the side and really stepped up and made some big plays for us. So I think that will help. Success breeds confidence.”

UTD’s passing and power overwhelmed Whitworth in the next two sets, with the Comets racking up 31 combined kills in the final sets of the match compared to the Pirates’ 21.

UTD’s attack also contributed to plenty of confusion for the Pirates, resulting in 23 combined errors over the course of the match, while UTD only racked up 12 errors.

Seniors Abbie Barth and Holyn Handley led the team with 11 and 9 kills, respectively.

“I thought we came out really strong and felt like everyone was really confident,” Handley said. “Everyone was performing really well and I thought we played together well and trusted each other.”

Barth also led the team in digs, finishing with 18. She praised the play of her teammates on the court.

“I thought we played really well,” she said. “I thought Michelle (Toro) and Lauren (Schilling) had a really good game blocking wise. I know Lauren had some really good blocks at really good times. I thought we played really well as a team.”

With 740 people in attendance filling up the north side of the Activity Center, a boisterous student section made sure the Comets never lost home court advantage.

Organizing synchronized chants, getting in the ears of the opposing team and keeping the gym buzzing with noise at all times, the ragtag group of fans decked out in green and orange made an impression on Sanders.

“Man, the crowd was great,” she said. “I think our student section did an awesome job. Our fans, as far as our parents and our families, have been following us all season and they were here cheering. It’s an awesome experience and these kids have earned this right.”

Heading forward, the road only gets harder for UTD, as every team in their bracket is now ranked. After upsetting sixteenth-ranked Trinity, #25 Hendrix is set to face UTD at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Earlier this season, UTD took down Hendrix 3-0 (25-23, 25-16, 25-19). The winner of that game will face the winner of the Southwestern/ Colorado College game at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Although UTD handled #5 Southwestern in October, #6 Colorado College handed the Comets their only loss of the regular season back in September.

Since then, UTD has grown, but so have its opponents.

“The three teams that have advanced along with us, we’ve seen them all this season, so that’s nice,” Sanders said. “However, all of those teams have gotten better as the season has gone on. So we’re going to try to just keep them nameless and faceless. That’s one of the things we try to say. It doesn’t matter who we’re going against, we just gotta make sure we do what we’re supposed to do.”

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