This year’s UTSA Volleyball Classic featured some stiff competition. Houston, Louisiana State University and Baylor gave fans quite a show in the Convocation Center this past weekend.
After earning a huge upset victory on the road earlier in the year against Texas A&M, the Roadrunners stumbled for five straight losses. Desperately seeking a spark to get them back on top before conference play, a trip home is just what the defending Conference USA champions needed.
“Coming back home is such a relief,” explained UTSA Head Coach Laura Groff. “We set up our preseason to play some tough competition; unfortunately, it worked out that we didn’t have any home games until our tournament.”
The action kicked off Thursday evening as the Roadrunners took on the Houston Cougars. The first set was a back-and-forth battle between the two teams, featuring 16 ties and eight different lead changes, but the Roadrunners managed to squeak by with a 30-28 victory.
Freshman outside hitter Marijeta Runjic and junior defensive specialist Annie Kunes led the way with seven kills and eight digs, respectively. The Cougars started the second set off hot and didn’t look back, winning 25-19 in a set they never trailed. Houston’s Courtney Warren and Kadi Kullerkann led the Cougars with a combined 22 kills.
The Roadrunners grinded out another close victory in the third set, 25-21, and finished the Cougars off in the fourth set, 25-12.
Houston lost their freshman setter, Keandra McCardell, midway through the fourth set to a head injury and the team never seemed to recover. After five straight losses, the Roadrunners finally found the victory they needed.
“It feels really good. They (Houston) are a big, physical team,” junior Annie Kunes said. “We had to match their intensity, and we knew if we came home and just played our game in front of our fans, we could win.”
UTSA’s winning ways came to an abrupt end Friday evening against LSU. In a close set resembling their first set against Houston, the Runners found themselves on the short side of a 27-25 loss to the Tigers.
The Roadrunners bounced back in the second set, earning a 25-21 victory. Senior middle hitter Dempsey Thornton recorded three digs, and sophomore outside hitter Dajana Boskovic added three kills. The third and fourth sets would ultimately belong to LSU as the Tigers fought their way to decisive 25-20 and 25-18 victories.
UTSA held the lead in both sets, but strong runs towards the end of the sets from the Tigers pushed them to a win in the Convocation Center.
“We’re really having to fight hard in every match,” said senior Dempsey Thornton following Friday’s loss. “With tough competition early on in the season, we learn the value of competing before conference play. Eventually we’ll learn how to finish, and we’ll be unstoppable.”
In the last day of the UTSA Classic, the Roadrunners faced off against the Baylor Bears and looked unstoppable.
With an LSU loss still fresh in their minds, the Runners entered the match with a chip on their shoulder. In front of a crowd of nearly a thousand fans, UTSA took the first set, 25-22. The set featured 14 ties and six lead changes.
Thornton racked up eight kills playing with an obvious intensity, high-fiving and cheering on her teammates throughout the set. The Roadrunners did not let their foot of the gas in the second set, cruising to a 25-18 win.
With their backs against the wall after intermission, the Bears responded in the third set, taking a 25-18 victory. Baylor started the match on a 5-1 run and UTSA was unable to catch up.
The Roadrunners came back in the fourth set to finish off the upset of the Bears in a strong way. Feeding off the energy of the crowd, UTSA started the set on fire, quickly storming to a 12-1 lead. Baylor called multiple timeouts throughout to recoup but to no avail.
The Roadrunners took the final set 25-9, posting an attack percentage of .417 and holding Baylor to .037.
“I can’t tell you how much we needed this win for our confidence,” explained Groff. “We have come so close to beating so many good teams that are ‘better’ than us, so this is a good win for our program and our players going into conference play.”
When asked about the advantage of the home crowd, Coach Groff said, “It really helps. I challenge the students and fans to come out and see what we’ve got to offer. If you come once, you’ll come back again.”
The next match for the Roadrunners at the Convocation Center will be Sept. 26 against Florida Atlantic at 7 p.m.