UTD’s volleyball team advanced to the third round of the NCAA D-III Tournament for the first time after defeating no. 25 Hendrix College Warriors 3-2 (20-25, 25-21, 20-25, 27-25, 12-15).
The Comets improved to 32-2 on the season after a close match that went five sets. A crowd of 595 attended the game, including rowdy fans of both teams.
Hendrix and UTD traded points early in the first set, which set a precedent for the rest of the game as the teams kept every set close.
Freshman middle blocker Lauren Schilling said she and other freshmen are able to keep their calm in tight games because of the upperclassmen players.
“They’re always pushing us in practice and making us better by not letting us off easy for being freshmen,” Schilling said.
The squad from Hendrix is older on average than UTD, with nine seniors and only two freshmen on their full roster. By comparison, UTD’s full roster has three seniors and seven freshmen.
“We knew we were going to have our hands full,” said head coach Marci Sanders. “We told our freshmen that it didn’t matter experience. It mattered who played the most disciplined and who played with the most heart.”
After taking a 2-1 lead in sets, UTD pulled away at the end of the fourth set. They scored five straight points on their way to taking a 24-21 lead, but couldn’t take the match point. Hendrix rallied back and took the set, but the UTD squad didn’t get rattled.
Schilling and the rest of the team used humor to keep themselves calm.
“We were telling each other jokes on the sidelines,” she said. “We were trying to make each other laugh so we weren’t freaking out as we were going into it.”
They have practice drills for similar situations, which helped them to stay level headed before the fifth set.
“You have to fight for it, so we already had the mentality that it doesn’t matter that they managed to pull out the win in the fourth set,” Schilling said. “We just have to fight for every point in that fifth set. We already had the training that gave us the mindset to always be prepared for whatever we were faced with.”
Freshman outside hitter Dylan Brinkman led the game with 19 kills, including the game-winner. Being in a similar position during the ASC finals helped the team as they went into the fifth set, along with training during the season.
“We always practice playing fifth set matches,” Brinkman said. “We know how to battle and how to make less unforced errors.”
Sanders was nervous about playing Hendrix during the regular season, but UTD’s opponent getting their injured libero back for this game made a big difference. Hendrix tested the UTD freshmen and Sanders gave them credit for how hard they battled.
“These kids left it all out on the floor.” Sanders said. “Hendrix played well, but our kids just stuck with them.”
As for preparing for their next game against Southwestern, Sanders is taking the night off.
“I’m honestly not going to work on Southwestern tonight,” Sanders said. “I’m going to tell the kids to go get rest and enjoy it. We’ll be here first thing in the morning to get refocused, but I think the kids deserve to enjoy this.”