EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – On Tuesday, UTEP volleyball opened up its preseason training for the upcoming season, as the program looks to build off their successful 2021 campaign.
Last year, the Miners finished the season off 26-14 overall and 8-4 in Conference USA play. The 26 wins were the most victories at the school in 33 years. It also marked the program’s first 20-win campaign since 2005.
UTEP also participated in the postseason for the first time in the program’s history. The Miners played in the National Invitational Volleyball Championship, collecting three wins before bowing out to UNLV in the semifinal round.
With all that now in the past, the expectations have been raised for head coach Ben Wallis and his squad as they prepare to head into 2022.
“There is a good, solid expectation that this team is going to go do something special,” said Wallis. “I’m excited for the expectations, I am excited that people will come in, sit in these stands and expect for us to do well and win. We are going to one way or another put an exciting team out on the floor.”
“It is great that we had that season and it is something to build off,” said UTEP senior outside hitter Alianza Darley. “We’ve got the fans ready, we are excited, everyone at the school is excited, and its pretty exciting coming off a season like that but we have more to accomplish.”
This year’s team is composed of 12 returners from last year, six of them with some type of starting experience in 2021, and eight newcomers.
Some key returners will be a pair of All-Conference USA players from last year. Serena Patterson, a graduate student, and Alianza Darley, a senior, will be looked upon to carry a big load in terms of leadership on the team.
Patterson led the Miners in points (427, 3.68/set) and kills (367, 3.16/set) while hitting .253. Her stellar play led to C-USA All-Conference First Team honors. Darley served as a dual threat on the court. The product out of Las Vegas, New Mexico collected 101 total blocks, 314.5 points, and 260 kills while hitting .297 on the season. Darley would earn a C-USA All-Conference Second Team selection.
Hula Crisostomo, a redshirt senior defensive specialist/libero; Alyssa Sianez, a junior defensive specialist; and Hande Yetis, a junior setter; will also be some returners from 2021 that will be relied on heavily this upcoming season.
They will be looked at as the veterans for a youthful team that has 12 players on the roster who are listed as freshman and sophomores.
“We have a lot of young people on this group, but we have a lot of talent here,” said Wallis. “This might be talent that this program’s ever had. Maybe the most skilled this program has ever had.”
Some newcomers to watch out are Marian Ovalle, a junior right side hitter, who transferred to UTEP from the New Mexico Military Institute. Ovalle was named the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Two-Year College National Player of the Year in 2021.
“She [Marian Ovalle] brings a different element to the game as a left handed attacker and scorer that can really bother people that not everybody has in their gym,” said Wallis. “She is learning how things go here, coming from a junior college to here, everybody’s good and everybody’s physical and so she is looking around, measuring herself right now.”
Sara Pustahija, a freshman outside hitter from Belgrade, Serbia, will also have the chance to factor in. Torrance Lovesee, a redshirt freshman, looks to see her first moments of action with the Miners after missing the entirety of last season due to an injury.
Ovalle and Pustahija are just two of the eight new additions to the Miners for the 2022 season. It is now up to Wallis to see how the returners and newcomers will come together on the court in order to create a squad that will be ready to go when it counts.
“There is a lot of pieces to the puzzle. It is my job to figure out what the lineup looks like and how they function together,” said Wallis. “This is what the preseason is about. We have about anywhere from 30 to 32 practices to figure out how we are going to put the pieces together before we play in 17 days.”
With excitement very high about the program and a ton of talent on the roster, the Miners are ready to serve up their best game when the season starts.
“It is going to be a lot to get everyone moving towards the same boat but I think skill wise, we are ready to compete with the bigger teams,” said Darley. “I don’t think age or experience really should have a big play on that.”
“I think after finishing last season, I think we have just more skill, younger girls yes, but I think that we can go even further this year,” said UTEP graduate student outside hitter Serena Patterson. “I am excited that season’s finally here and we can put it to action.”
Fans can get their first look at the 2022 UTEP Volleyball team at the Orange vs. Navy Scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 13. First serve for the scrimmage is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Memorial Gym and admission is free, per UTEP Athletics.