EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – In what should have been one of the most tense moments in the biggest game in UTEP history, the Miners weren’t nervous; they were doing the Cha-Cha Slide.
In a brief break in action in the third set of UTEP’s epic five-set win over Weber State in Tuesday’s National Invitational Volleyball Championship quarterfinals, the UTEP bench, including head coach Ben Wallis, could be found engaging in the iconic dance.
The team making its first-ever postseason appearance, hosting the first postseason home game in school history, was having too much fun to be scared.
“That’s the way we’ve been all year, this team needs to have a fun time and an atmosphere where you keep them loose,” said Wallis. “We’ve done this for three years where we laugh dance and keep each other loose. We looked each other in the eye and decided to have some fun. It was normal.”
The Miners have made the first postseason in school history look normal, too. After dispatching Tulsa and Colorado State away from home in the first two rounds of the NIVC, UTEP welcomed 2,100 fans to Memorial Gym for the biggest win the program has ever seen over Weber State.
Now, they get to do it all again on Thursday. UTEP (24-7) will host UNLV (26-9) in the NIVC semifinals on Thursday evening at 7 p.m., with a trip to next week’s tournament championship match vs. either Valparaiso or UConn on the line.
“As a head coach, (Tuesday) tops the list (of favorite games) because of the atmosphere, the postseason, the team we played and getting to play in the Final 4 of the postseason,” said Wallis. “Hopefully that changes Thursday.”
The Rebels had a much easier road to the semifinals, sweeping Arkansas in three sets in the early match on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Miners weren’t practicing at all; they were resting up and watching film on UNLV to get ready for their fourth consecutive, “biggest match in school history.”
“We have to put Tuesday behind us because there’s another good team coming and we want to upset them,” said senior outside hitter Serena Patterson, moments after admitting she had trouble sleeping on Tuesday night because she had so much adrenaline from the win over Weber State. “We have to put it behind us, we know we played good as a team but now all that matters is Thursday.”
UTEP is showing that the investment the athletic department made in the team is worth it. The university paid $9,000 to host the quarterfinal match on Tuesday; UTEP will shell out $12,000 to have a home match vs. UNLV on Thursday.
They’ll make some of that back in ticket sales; the school is hopeful that at least the 2,100 fans that showed up Tuesday will come for the semifinals, maybe more.
According to Wallis, the Miners deserve the support and they deserve the amount off success they’re seeing right now.
“They come out here and work and grind and they want to keep winning,” said Wallis. “It’s a special team, a special group of competitors and people. they want to do this for El Paso, their university and for themselves.”
First serve between UTEP and UNLV is set for 7 p.m. at Memorial Gym on Thursday night. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 for UTEP students.