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New season, high expectations

The volleyball team starts its season Aug. 29. The Broncs have been waiting for the game against Louisiana Monroe to kick off the Sam Houston Invitational.
The day after the Sam Houston Invitational, the Broncs will face Mississippi State and Sam Houston State.
The UTPA Department of Intercollegiate Athletics stated that the volleyball team will have 29 matches before the start of the Western Athletic Conference WAC Tournament. Out of those 29, 11 will be at home, including the first home tournament Sept. 4. The UTPA Tournament will welcome Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Texas Tech University and Northern Arizona University.
“Being able to put a home tournament on our schedule for the first time in a few years is good for us,” Coach Brian Yale said. “We’ll be able to get the feel for playing at home in front of a great crowd early so we can get some excitement about the season without having to wait until late September.”
The Broncs open one of 11-game home stand with the tournament opener against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Sept. 4 at 6 p.m. The action will continue the following day as the Broncs battle Lamar and Texas Tech. They wrap up the tournament Sept. 6 against Northern Arizona University at 2 p.m. at the Field House.
Last year the Broncs set a program record by having a total of 7,176 fans show up over the course of the 11 home games – an average of 652 fans per game.
The Broncs will be participating in four tournaments, including the UTPA Tournament, before having their first WAC Conference game against Bakersfield Sept. 25, 7 p.m. at the Field House.
The only two non-conference games that are not in a tournament are Texas Southern University Oct. 7 and Incarnate Word Nov. 4.
“I’m very pleased with what we were able to put together, being able to get out and about the state of Texas along with one trip to Louisiana during the non-conference schedule,” Yale said. “Those three trips will be good for our group as there’s a lot of good competition, and if we go in and play our best, we’ll be in a position to challenge for those matches.”
Yale is confident in his mesh of newcomers and veterans.
“We have some talented freshman joining the mix this fall which is exciting. But equally exciting is having our returners currently healthy,” he said.
Yale is relying on upperclassmen like Haley Kurhan and Maria Kliefoth. Combined, the two led the Broncs with kills last year, Kliefoth with 217 and Kurhan with 291.
“We’ll have the upperclassmen who will set the standards and continually raise the bar,” Yale said. “We’ll also have the young ones who will be capable of challenging for playing time, and forcing the upperclassmen to not be comfortable in their status and positions. The best, most consistent players will play.”
The Broncs open WAC action with a couple of battles at the Field House, starting with Bakersfield Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. The next contest happens Sept. 27 as Grand Canyon University comes to the Valley.
Following that, UTPA takes its talent back on the road to face the likes of Seattle University, Utah Valley, and Texas Southern in non-conference, wrapping the four-game trip with a drive to Las Cruces, N.M., to fight the defending WAC champion, New Mexico State.
When the Broncs return, they come back to Spirit Week and their Broncs Against Breast Cancer match against Chicago State University Oct16. Then they close out the regular season with a pair of home games against Kansas City and CSU.
“Instead of Year Two, let’s call it Year 1-A in the WAC,” Yale said. “We had a great start to our season last year, and then hit a few bumps with injuries, so I don’t think we ever really got a chance to see what the WAC was all about from our perspective. We certainly know what the teams are like and what we’re going to see across the net, but for us, we didn’t get our full feel.”
Yale has five freshmen entering this year, including Taylor Williams from Corpus Christi who was named Defensive Specialist MVP, All-South Texas first team, All-District first team and All-Academic Team honors while playing at Foy H. Moody High School. Even with the talent coming in, Yale will rely on experience as the women march down the road.
“We were very competitive last year, even when we weren’t at full strength. Experience, good or bad, can never hurt,” Yale said. “I fully expect the girls to use what they learned last fall to be more prepared and driven internally this year.”
At the end of the season the top six teams in the WAC, not including Grand Canyon, will be in the tournament in November hosted by Bakersfield, The first two seeds of the conference will have a first-round bye in the tournament and the winner will earn a automatic bid in the field of 64 for the NCAA Tournament. Yale knows that this could be a big year for him and his team, but he feels they will be competitive.
“Our expectations are high every year,” said Yale, whose team went 13-20 and finished seventh overall in the WAC in 2013. “We’ve got to make the WAC Tournament and compete as a top level team in the league. We took a big step last season, but never got to see a final result. It’s time to get on the court and move on from what could have been to a new and current body of work.”

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