UTEP Volleyball Gets Two Signature Wins in Same Day
Just weeks into the 2021-22 athletic season, something special is happening with the UTEP Volleyball team. Head coach Ben Wallis has high aspirations for his program and his Miners capped up a wild day with wins over Pac-12 Arizona and the Big 10's Northwestern.
UTEP began yesterday in Las Cruces and they faced off with the previously undefeated Wildcats in their biggest challenge of the early season at the Borderland Invitational. The Miners lost the first two sets to Arizona (23-25 & 22-25), but the team did not give up.
Instead, they rallied to win the next two sets (25-21 & 25-22) and then UTEP took the final set by a 15-6 margin to win the match. The victory was their first against a Power 5 opponent since 2005 and also the first time they defeated a Pac-12 opponent since Oregon in 2000.
"I’m still just a little jacked up and I’m excited about our group," Coach Wallis said after the big win. "We’ve been talking all week about how hard this was going to be, and they listened to me. We have a line-up and a roster that I can make changes with on the fly. I needed to get Kennidy Howard in there in the third set, and she was great. She helped us so much with her energy. Kristen (Fritsche) was amazing and I can't tell you how proud I am of Ryley Frye."
The Miners had little time to celebrate. Instead, they traveled back to El Paso and a little more than three hours later, they hosted Northwestern at Memorial Gym. Despite the Huskies entering the match with a 1-2 record, they had UTEP on the ropes in the first set, but they could not put the home team away. Instead, the Miners fought off five set points and came back to win 30-28. That set also took the air out of Northwestern and they never again posed a serious threat to the home team. Instead, UTEP won the second set 25-16 and the final set 25-19 to sweep the match and win for the first time ever against a Big 10 opponent. It was also the first time since 1985 that the Miners swept Power 5 opponents in the same day.
"I’m just really proud of my group to be able to turnaround in less than two and a half hours," Wallis said. "We knocked off a Pac-12 team that’s really good and then sweep a Big 10 team who is a little beat up physically, but so are we. We just were so good all day from the service line and with reception. Serena Patterson was a monster today. She was hyper focused, super competitive. I just knew we were going to pull it (the first set) out. We’ve got a bunch of grinders. I’m just really proud of them."
The Miners are now 5-0 to start the season for the first time since 2011. That group won eight straight to start off that season, and they finished with a 19-11 overall record. As great as this group is currently playing, tomorrow afternoon will be a war. UTEP will host I-10 rival New Mexico State at Memorial Gym. Prior to getting the job at UTEP, Coach Wallis spent the previous six seasons at NMSU under coach Mike Jordan. The Aggies have always had the Miners number, and the WAC powerhouse currently holds a 9-match win streak against them. The fun gets started at 1 p.m. tomorrow and tickets are $8 and can be purchased online or in person at 201 Glory Road.