The UTD Volleyball team defeated East Texas Baptist University to secure an American Southwest Conference championship on Nov. 5. This is the eighth time the Comets have brought home the trophy in their 19 years of existence. Comets also won the ASC Championship in 2021.
Because of their 2021 success, there were high expectations for the Comets going into this season. However, Villarreal and his team silenced doubters quickly, winning 10 of their first 11 conference games. This hot start allowed UTD to dominate the conference mid-season, and an end-of-season 5 game win streak carried the team into the postseason. When asked about the pressure to perform in his first season as head coach, Villarreal emphasized the contributions of his players.
“Those kids did a great job competing all year, handling the change and doing what they needed to do to play up to their potential. I thought that they showed when they’re ready to compete, they can compete with [nationally ranked teams] … Just getting that in that first year, you never know what you’re going to get with the change and how people will buy into the system with things being a little different, and I think they did a really good job of handling those things.”
Following their championship run, the Comets automatically qualified for the NCAA D-III tournament but lost in the second round to #1 ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. Despite the loss, Comets’ performance at the D-III tournament hit levels unseen since 2016, and next season, all eyes should be on UTD. When asked about those expectations for the next season, Villarreal spoke about the constantly changing dynamics of the team and the loss of a few key contributors. The team will lose three pin hitters – Abby Jones, Catherine Croft and Madison Ball – who won three previous championships, which could damage the team’s ability to pass. Next season, the team will also lose middle blocker Karle Lynd.
“All of those players that we’re losing were significant offensively for us,” Villareal said, “and so only time will tell on what we’re able to do to replicate that. Everything is gonna be dependent on how people step up into new roles and compete for new positions, and that’s always one of the things we’re shooting to do is be successful and maintain that standard of success we’ve set forward already.”
Of all the graduating players, the loss of outside hitter Catherine Croft may be the harshest, as Croft ended her UTD career with back-to-back tournament MVP honors as well as 1st team All-Conference selections in both 2021 and 2022. The prolific hitter ended her season with 244 kills and 55 blocks, and when asked about the success of the season, Croft spoke about the excitement of winning her last championship.
“Winning the ASC conference championship this year was incredible,” Croft said. “Even though this was my third time winning it with my teammates, this year’s championship felt extra special. After 6 a.m. practices four days a week, 3-hour study halls, team lifts twice a week and then traveling at least 3 hours for each conference game over the past 4 years, winning this championship was such a reward. It was such a special moment to see the sheer joy on everyone’s faces after we won, too. I am so happy to share this success with my teammates as well. They deserve the world.”
With the volleyball team entering the off-season, excitement for the future is high. With potential future successes on the horizon, Villarreal reflected on the joy of this past season.
“Sometimes you take for granted the season that you had and you don’t actually sit there and enjoy and reflect back on it,” Villareal said. “Everybody’s seeing the bigger picture of the first year with the coaching change, that it was a success, [but winning the] conference championship again, back-to-back… I think those are things they should cherish going forward.”