Coach Jane Sargent accepts invitation to face top competition
UAFS volleyball coach Jane Sargent has never been one to shy away from playing tough competition. Needless to say, when the Lady Lions were invited to compete in the prestigious Colorado Premier Challenge, she didn’t hesitate in accepting the offer.
“The Colorado Premier Challenge is arguably the toughest tournament in the country with the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in attendance,” Sargent said. “It was an honor to even be invited, and we feel fortunate to get the chance to play at that level.”
No. 21 UAFS, along with No. 1 Concordia-St. Paul and No. 2 Wheeling Jesuit, is a part of a 12-team field that will compete in the two-day, 12-team event hosted by Regis University and Metro State University in Denver, Colo.
UAFS will compete in Pool 2 with defending national champion Wheeling Jesuit and Regis. Pool 1 will feature No. 5 Southwest Minnesota State, West Florida and No. 18 Colorado School of Mines. Pool 3 will feature Concordia-St. Paul, No. 8 Lewis and St. Leo, and Pool 4 will feature No. 6 Central Missouri, No. 19 Angelo State and Metro State.
The Lady Lions (3-1) will play Wheeling Jesuit at 1 p.m. and Regis at 4:30 p.m. on Friday at Regis Fieldhouse. Live statistics and a live stream of each match will be available at https://portal.stretchinternet.com/regis/. UAFS also will play two matches on Saturday with opponents and game times being decided after the conclusion ofFriday’s matches.
UAFS’ opening match against Wheeling Jesuit (4-0) will be a rematch of last season’s Elite Eight encounter in the NCAA Division II National Tournament. The Cardinals beat the Lady Lions in four sets on their way to claiming the national title. UAFS was the only team to win a set against Wheeling Jesuit in the Elite Eight and beyond.
Sargent said she is looking forward to her Lady Lions playing the defending national champions, who may be stronger this season than last season. The Cardinals opened the season with a four-set win against Carson-Newman College, a sweep of the University of Findlay, a five-set win against No. 6 Central Missouri and a sweep of then-No. 23 West Florida last weekend in the West Florida Tournament.
“We are excited to have the opportunity to play them again. Although with the majority of their team returning, including a couple of First Team All-Americans, I’m not sure how long that excitement will last,” Sargent said. “They are, if possible, even better than they were last year. The speed of their offense is just something we don’t face very often. So, it’s extremely hard to defend. That being said, we are excited to play them again.”
UAFS opened the season last weekend by winning three of its four matches in the 20th annual SpringHill Suites Invitational at Alaska Airlines Arena in Anchorage, Alaska. The Lady Lions swept Rollins and Westminster, beat Stanislaus State in four sets and lost to No. 12 Alaska-Anchorage in five sets in the championship match.
It was a solid season-opening performance for the Lady Lions, who were No. 19 in the AVCA NCAA Division II Preseason Top 25, but Sargent said there are still several areas the Lady Lions will need to improve on.
“This weekend will be another tough challenge for us,” Sargent said. “We still have a long way to go in terms of our hitters connecting with our freshman setter and them working harder on hitting out-of-system balls. Our lack of capitalizing on those types of situations was definitely a weakness this weekend.”
UAFS leads the Heartland Conference in hitting percentage (0.195) and opponent hitting percentage (0.134) and is second in kills (12.53 per set), opponent kills (11.4 per set), blocks (2.4 per set), aces (1.4 per set). The Lady Lions are third in the conference in digs (19.3 per set).
Senior outside hitter Kennedi Coleman leads the conference in kills per set (4.00), and senior middle hitter Payton Hamilton leads the conference in attack percentage (0.378). Senior middle hitter Shannon Thompson leads the conference in blocks per set (1.47), and senior libero Emily Tripp leads the conference in digs per set (7.8).
Kennedi was named to the All-SpringHill Suites Invitational Team last weekend after averaging four kills per set. Tripp was named to the All-SpringHill Suites Invitational Team and also named Conference Libero of the Week after averaging 7.8 digs per set during the invitational.