RIO GRANDE VALLEY – The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) volleyball team has grown significantly this year.
Just months after a season in which the UTRGV was never complete, the Vaqueros have won 17 games, finished second in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Southwest Division and secured a playoff spot. playoffs.
I thought it was a good rebound year for us “, UTRGV head coach Todd lowery noted. “I just thought they started fighting and playing for each other again which made a big difference. I was proud of what we were able to accomplish this year. I think the future is. promising. We’ve seen good things from a lot of kids who will be coming back. “
The future started early for UTRGV, as just over a week after being knocked out from the WAC tournament, the Vaqueros learned they would still have a chance for the playoffs, claiming their very first place in the national championship. volleyball by invitation (NIVC). It was the UTRGV’s second place finish in the NCAA Division I playoffs after competing in the NCAA tournament in 2016.
UTRGV fell to Arizona in the first round, but found the experience meaningful.
“I think it was great for us to have this opportunity, especially with a young team, to go out and compete and play without pressure,” said Lowery. “Having this opportunity to come out and play again gave us the opportunity to take matters into our own hands next year. The feeling after leaving Arizona was a little different than after leaving Las Cruces after the tournament. WAC and I was happy for that I think our team deserved to feel good in this season and I think they felt better after we went to Arizona and competed there than maybe when we left the WAC tournament. “
The UTRGV are looking to build on the momentum of this successful season for years to come, as the Vaqueros had seven freshmen and three sophomores on the roster, meaning the core of the squad has several more seasons together.
“It’s really exciting to fill a few positions where we think we can improve and to recruit and give this team the opportunity to win a WAC championship,” said Lowery.
First year phenomena
Much of the success of the UTRGV was due to a group of freshmen who immediately took on the starting roles.
Luanna Emiliano started all 28 games on the passer, averaging 9.88 assists per set, the sixth-highest total in a single season in program history, with 1,057 assists, the seventh-highest total and the second among freshmen, as well as 345 recoveries, the third highest total among freshmen and 37 aces, tied for the fifth highest total among freshmen. She has led the UTRGV in assists in all 28 games and digs seven times. Emiliano has recorded 28 games of 20+ assists, including eight 21 of 30+, 13 of 40+ and three of 50+ while recording over 10 digs in 21 games en route to 10 double-doubles. For his efforts, Emiliano has won All-WAC Second Team and Freshman Team honors as well as four WAC Freshman of the Week awards.
“Just seeing his balance on the court as a rookie leading the offense was amazing,” said Lowery. “I felt like after the first three or four weeks she had just settled in and was becoming the player we knew she was capable of being. She started to feel comfortable and to take on a leadership role already as a freshman. I think we’ll see that role just grow as she gets older and becomes more comfortable. Defensively, when she settles down, she plays excellent defense and the offensive is only playing its part. “
Perris Key started 24 times, and UTRGV went 15-9 during that time. That 0.625 winning percentage was highest among players who started at least eight games and second among those who started at least twice.
Key opened the season to the out hitter, moved on to defensive specialist, returned to bowling, then became a starting center tackle down the home stretch. She has recorded eight kills on two occasions, most notably as an outside hitter in East Carolina and as a center blocker against the Grand Canyon. Key recorded six blocks to Abilene Christian. From the back row, Key posted seven games of over 10 digs.
“I think Perris was as pleasant a surprise as anyone,” Lowery said. “We knew what she was athletically, but we didn’t have a lot of time with her before the season. She’s so stable. I think she has so much potential. She’s going to be a big contributor here. over the next three years and I think we were pleasantly surprised where she already was with her front desk service. She spent probably 80% of the season for us, and we thought, upon entering, that she probably was two years of being able to do these things. The fact that she was able to do them at a quality level was really promising for us. I think she’s so athletic that we can tweak some things and she can become a passer and an elite defender. “
Ingridy Foltran is another freshman who has the capacity to make a big impact. After showing flashes early, with 11 kills against Nicholls and eight in the next game against Louisiana, Foltran was a bit quiet. On October 30, however, that all changed. When the best hitter on the team, Sarah-Cruz, was injured, Foltran stepped in and recorded a career-high 16 kills and a career-high nine digs. In the next game, with Cruz back on the lineup, Foltran recorded six kills on a 0.750 clear strike.
“I think it took her a little while to get into things, but no one is doing more work than she is,” Lowery said. “She wants to hit every extra workout she can come in. She’s still at the gym. She’s working really hard in the weight room. I think her growth is going to continue on a positive path over the next three years.”
Of course, if you’re talking about UTRGV hitters, the conversation begins with Cruz, who won first-team All-WAC honors for a season in which she broke the program record for kills per set (4 , 37) while placing sixth overall. kill (437) and tied for fifth in attacks per set (11.19). She led the UTRGV killing 22 times, digging twice and blocking three times. Cruz recorded 23 games of 10+ kills, including nine of 20+, and 10 games of 10+ digs, including one of 20+ on the way to 10 double-doubles.
Cruz finished with 500.0 points overall, almost as many as she did in her first two years combined. In 2019, Cruz recorded 3.13 kills, 1.81 digs and 0.48 blocks per set. Last season, playing both bowling and middle, Cruz averaged 1.72 kills, 1.22 digs and 0.74 blocks per set.
“I think Sarah has taken a huge step forward,” Lowery said. “I think this year she just continued to have a growth mindset and really listen to the things that we talked about in terms of how she fits into the team. We always knew. that she was a great scorer. That hasn’t changed. I think the biggest key is that she felt really comfortable with her teammates. It allowed her to play without as much pressure as through the past. I think she can work really hard this spring and take almost an even step next year. I still think she has a ton of growth in her. Our job over the next 6 to 9 months is how we come out every night where she can just go in there and pick up every game. “
After a year in which injuries forced UTRGV to play Cruz in the middle for much of the year, UTRGV was able to get Cruz back in the pins largely thanks to the additions of Key and Luisa Silva Dos Santos, of which the latter has started all games except one in the middle.
Santos ranks eighth in the program’s history of a single season in blocks per set (0.96), eighth in assists (85) and 10e in total of blocks (100). She has led the UTRGV in blocks 19 times and kills once while posting five games of 10+ kills at an average of 2.04 per set.
“Luisa is probably as complete a center blocker as we’ve had for a long time when it comes to her size, scoring ability and blocking ability,” said Lowery. “We had midfielders that were really good blockers and we had midfielders that were very good point scorers. But she’s probably the first in a while to do both at a very high level. As important as anything. for our team, however, is her personality. She came in and became captain and team leader right away. “
Starting alongside Santos in the middle for most of the season, before a late transition to the right side, has been Veronica Jandova. A graduate student in her fifth season with the team, Jandova ended her career third in program history in hitting (0.279) and blocks per set (0.83), fourth in block assists (264 ) and seventh in total (309).
This season, Jandova has reached 0.293, the second-highest winning percentage in program history, while leading the UTRGV in blocks 12 times and killing twice. She averages 2.16 kills and 0.77 blocks per set.
“I thought she had a terrific final season despite a heavy course load, as she took five graduate courses this fall as part of her goal of completing her masters in one year,” said Lowery. “I thought she was stable and probably as good as she has been. As good as she has been throughout her career, I thought it was a great ending for everything. she’s been doing it for the past five years. Her growth as a person and as a player has been fun to watch. “
The UTRGV is currently enjoying winter break and will resume training in the spring semester.
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