A month or so ago, it looked like neither the Eastern New Mexico University nor Texas Woman’s volleyball teams were postseason contenders.
Both recovered, though, making it to the Lone Star Conference tournament with strong October runs. The Zias, seeded third from the South Division, and the Pioneers, the North’s No. 2 seed, collide in a quarterfinal matchup of two of the league’s hottest teams at 6:30 p.m. (MST) today in Canyon, Texas.
ENMU (16-14) has won 11 of 15 matches after a 5-10 first half. But the Pioneers (15-18) mounted an even more impressive charge, running off 12 consecutive wins after going just 2-15 in September.
“It’s a major surprise,” Zias coach Mike Maguire said of the Pioneers, who lost on the road to Cameron and Central Oklahoma last weekend to finish in a three-way tie with those teams for the North title at 8-2. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
The Zias have been idle since struggling in a five-game win over Wayland Baptist at Greyhound Arena on Nov. 4, clinching the program’s 15th consecutive winning season.
Maguire said he thinks the narrow escape may prove to be beneficial.
“We overlooked them coming in, but they put up a fight,” junior middle blocker Emilie Rodman said of WBU. “We can’t do that against Texas Woman’s. We watched them play (in an LSC crossover tournament) and they’re pretty scrappy. We’re going to have to go out and play hard.”
TWU has a mostly-new roster under first-year coach Shelly Barbaree, who was previously at Hill (Texas) Junior College. Barbaree brought her top player, 6-foot-1 junior middle blocker Jenny Madrid, with her from Hill.
“I think they just started playing together, like us,” Maguire said of the Pioneers. “They got to know each other.
“They have three players who are usually in double figures (in kills). They’ve got it all going at the same time now.”
The winner plays host and South No. 1 seed West Texas A&M (27-7) in a 6:30 p.m. (MST) semifinal on Friday. The Zias are trying hard not to look ahead to a possible matchup with their rivals.
“I think we can go to the championship; it’s all about teamwork and everybody working together,” freshman middle blocker Grace George said. “(Tonight is) a big game for us, just so we can play West Texas on Friday. We have to just come out strong and play our best.”
The tournament winner earns an automatic berth in the NCAA Division II tournament.