By Julia Wheelerman
This week marks the third week that the women’s volleyball team has had a spot on the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division II coaches poll and they are currently ranked eighth.
“This is almost kind of a redemption year for us,” sophomore Katie McKiel said.
Last year, the Spartans fell out of the AVCA ranking within the first week for the first time in over two decades. In 2014, the women’s volleyball team had a 13-1 start to the season and finished with 34-1, making them national champions. This year, they’re hoping to imitate that past winning streak.
“We had a rough start to last season with injuries and we were three wins-10 losses at one point,” McKiel acknowledged. “We felt like we didn’t play to the level we were capable of.”
Currently, the women’s volleyball has a .281 hitting percentage, 13.61 assists per set, and 14.46 kills per set, putting them at the top of the SSC schools. McKiel herself leads the team with 256 kills and a .256 kill percentage alongside fellow sophomore Sorrel Houghton.
“I’m looking forward to playing the regional crossover next weekend to play new teams and to play the No. 1 schools from the other conference and to see where we stand/stack up not only in our conference but in the south region,” McKiel said.
The regional conference games that the Spartans will play are taking place on Oct.19 and 20 in Orlando.
“The players are a year older and they learned a lot from last year’s struggles,” Head Coach Chris Catanach said.
Catanach has been a coach at UT for the last 35 years, he helped lead the team to the 2006 and 2014 national titles.“It is our goal to win the region and play in the National Elite Eight tournament,” Catanach said.
However, since it’s so early in the season, there still are a lot more games to play before making it to nationals.
“I am not sure that we are ready to win it all,” Catanach said. “There is a lot to be played still.”
Currently, they are on a 14 game winning streak and they’ve only lost one game out of 21 games they’ve played. However, the growing fear is that as they continue their winning streak, they create a bigger target on their back.
“Going into the second half of the season we know everyone is gonna be gunning to beat us and that we can’t underestimate anyone,” McKiel said. “But it’s definitely motivating to keep the streak alive and maintain our place at the top of the conference.”
The women’s volleyball team is currently made up of a majority of upperclassmen with only four freshmen.
“The players are a year older and they learned a lot from last year’s struggles,” Catanach said.
By having more advanced players, it makes the communication on the team and between the team members easier.
“We have better communication as a team and all are on the same page in terms of the goals we want to achieve as a team and how much work it’s gonna take to achieve them,” McKiel said.
The next games the team will play will be in the 2018 South Region Crossover. At last year’s South Region Crossover, they beat all three opponents, including Valdosta State University, who they’ll be playing again. The two other teams they’ll be facing off against are Lee University and The University of West Florida.