Nov. 17, 2011
CONWAY, Ark. - Lamar University and Central Arkansas will meet for the third time this season Friday evening at 6:30 as the two schools square off in the opening round of the 2011 Southland Conference Volleyball Tournament.
The eight-team tournament will be held at UCA's Farris Center, with the champion earning the Southland's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. UTSA is the defending tournament champion, while Lamar has won the Southland Tournament three times.
Lamar finished the regular season with an 11-20 overall record and a 9-7 conference mark which earned the Lady Cardinals the No. 5 seed. Central Arkansas (16-14) earned the No. 4 seed after claiming its fourth consecutive East Division title with a 10-6 league record.
Texas State won the regular season title with a 15-1 league record, one game better than runner-up UTSA. Should Lamar win, it would face the winner of the Texas State vs. Northwestern State match on Saturday evening at 7:30. The championship match is set for Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m.
The Lady Cardinals, who last won the conference tournament in 2008, will be making their 17th appearance in the event. Head coach Justin Gibert has led Lamar to the tournament in each of his seven seasons with the program after the Lady Cardinals missed the previous two.
"I feel good about the way the team is performing over the last couple of weeks," said Gibert. "We are really competing well, and are playing our best volleyball at the right time. We feel like we can upset some teams and make a run in the tournament."
Lamar and UCA each won on their home floors earlier this season, with the Sugar Bears winning 3-1 on Oct. 15, and the Lady Cardinals winning by the same score on Nov. 5. UCA leads the all-time series 6-4, with Lamar's last win in Conway coming during the 2007 season.
In the most recent match, which Lamar won by scores of 25-21, 25-10, 20-25 and 25-21, the Lady Cardinals finished with a big 58-43 advantage in kills. Lamar had its third best team hitting percentage on the season at .322.
Junior outside hitter Cynthia McCollum
led Lamar with 16 kills, while Wendy Krell
added 14 and Sierra Whittaker
finished with 10. Junior setter Alex Morford
handed out 54 assists, adding eight digs and two of Lamar's 11 service aces.
The two teams are fairly even statistically. Both schools are hitting .201 as a team, and UCA is averaging 12.70 kills per set while the Lady Cardinals are posting 12.38. They are also the top two teams in the league in service aces per set with Lamar averaging 1.61 and UCA averaging 1.59.
"We like the matchup with UCA," said Gibert of his teams' first round opponent. "It's unfortunate to draw the host team in the first round, but we played well against them late in the season and that should give us some confidence."
Whittaker, who was named Second-Team All-Southland Conference on Wednesday, leads Lamar offensively with 3.11 kills per set to rank sixth in the conference. Megan McStravick, McCollum and Krell all average better than two kills per set.
Morford was honorable mention all-conference this year after finishing fourth in the Southland in assists per set at 10.21 and second in aces per set at 0.48. She also had 170 digs and 28 total blocks during the regular season.
Krell and Christina Hobbs have stepped up their play lately from the middle blocker position. Krell, who is second on the team with 78 total blocks, has registered at least 10 kills in her last five matches. Hobbs had a season-high 13 kills in Lamar's season-ending win over Stephen F. Austin, and leads the team with 113 total blocks.