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Something to build on Volleyball fights as underdog in conference tournament

Vaquero volleyball finished its Western Athletic Conference schedule with four wins in 14 matches. The less than spectacular record did not keep UTRGV out of the WAC conference tournament, however. The team qualified for play, entering as the sixth and final seed.

With three of four wins coming in the second half of the conference season, volleyball seemed to be showing its best play late.

The team’s season ended Nov. 20 with a 0-3 loss to Cal State Bakersfield. Each set in the eliminating game was closely contested, including leads in the last two. In the final set of the year, the WAC champions from a season ago needed a 30-28 score to finally defeat the Vaqueros. While a 0-3 loss is disappointing, just getting into the second round as an underdog was an accomplishment.

The team’s hot play from the end of the regular season continued during the first round of the WAC tournament in Kansas City, Mo. UTRGV pulled an upset win over third seed in the tournament, Utah Valley University, in sweeping fashion. The 3-0 result was significant because both losses against Utah Valley this season were by 1-3 scores. Until now, the volleyball program had not won a match against UVU since 2005, which spanned 23 matches.

Senior Haley Durham had 11 kills, three blocks and two aces while pitching in to keep her collegiate volleyball career alive. On the other side of the spectrum, freshman Dubravka Vukoja added 41 assists. Sophomore Bojana Mitrovic led the attack for the team against UVU, once again, by tying her career-high in kills with 25.

 

Head Coach Todd Lowery commended Mitrovic’s play, adding that the team’s best offensive player is only improving.

“She continues to get better, [which] I think is the biggest thing,” Lowery said. “She’s a better player than she was the beginning of the year, making better decisions and knowing when to play hard.”

Set scores in the sweep were 25-21, 25-20 and 25-14. It was a pleasant surprise to win three straight sets against a team UTRGV only managed to take two sets from in prior meetings this season.

Lowery mentioned the parity of conference tournaments, and how teams build all year for this time.

“That’s what’s great about conference tournaments. Everybody has a chance at the end of the year. You work all year long to get to that point,” said the first-year head coach, who previously led legacy school UT Brownsville. “We’ve made a lot of adjustments over the year. We really felt that we were playing our best volleyball the last couple of weeks of the season.”

Lowery completes season one with some momentum that can be carried over to the offseason and next year. Standout Mitrovic was named to the first team All-WAC, and two Vaquero freshmen, Alexandra Ecker and Vukoja, were part of the All-Freshman team for the conference.

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