By Dave Wagner
For the first time in a while, West Texas A&M isn’t the prohibitive favorite in the Lone Star Conference volleyball tournament.
The five-time tourney champion Lady Buffs didn’t qualify for the event this season, something which hadn’t happened since WT rejoined the LSC in 1993.
Eastern New Mexico University is one of five teams which appear to have reasonable championship aspirations in the six-team event, beginning today at Lawton, Okla.
“The tournament is wide open,” said ENMU coach Mike Maguire, who has led the Zias (23-7) to their 16th consecutive winning season. “I think our chances are good.”
ENMU, the No. 3 seed from the LSC South, faces North No. 2 Central Oklahoma (21-8) in today’s first quarterfinal match at 4 p.m. (MST). The winner gets South champion Abilene Christian (26-7) in a 4 p.m. semifinal on Friday.
Host Cameron, the North champion, plays the winner of today’s 6:30 p.m. clash between Angelo State and Texas Woman’s in Friday’s second semifinal. The championship match is at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Everyone in the tournament is 19-11 or better except Texas Woman’s (15-18). The Zias split with ACU, lost two five-game decisions to Angelo and own a win over TWU, but they haven’t played UCO or Cameron.
“We’re going to go in there blind,” ENMU sophomore middle blocker Grace George said. “I think we have a pretty good chance (in the tournament), but it’s going to be tough. The teams are real good.”
UCO, which lost to Eastern in the first round of the tournament three consecutive years before finishing second to WT in 2002 and 2003, comes in on a roll. The Bronchos have won 10 of their last 12 matches and are 17-4 since a 4-4 start.
Maguire said UCO features some of the better players in the LSC in 6-foot-2 freshman outside hitter Katie Schult, senior middle blocker Emily Whiteley and junior setter Stephanie Ball.
“Central’s got a good team,” said Maguire, whose team didn’t face UCO this season. “They have a slight advantage over us because they’ve played in (Cameron’s) gym this year. We’re going to have to block well.
“It could be a good match. If we block well, I think we’re going to play well.”
The Zias struggled to keep their streak of winning seasons alive last year (16-15), but have had no such problems this time around. In fact, four of their losses came in fifth games.
“It’s quite a turnaround from last year,” Maguire said. “I think our play early in the year really helped us.
“If we play well (today), we could have another shot at Abilene and I’d love to have that.”
The Zias, ranked sixth in the Southwest Region, are well-positioned to earn a berth in the eight-team regional tournament next week.
Of course, a good showing this weekend would solidify their position in the region.
“We’ve just got to bring our best game,” George said. “We can’t have any letdowns. We just have to play as a team.”
At Lawton, Okla.
All Times MST
(Seeds in parentheses)
Central Oklahoma (2N) vs. Eastern New Mexico (3S), 4 p.m.; Angelo State (2S) vs. Texas Woman’s (3N), 6:30 p.m.
Abilene Christian (1S) vs. Central Oklahoma-Eastern New Mexico winner, 4 p.m.; Cameron (1N) vs. Angelo State-Texas Woman’s winner, 6:30 p.m.
Championship, 6 p.m.