EL PASO – The UTEP volleyball team advanced to 16-11 (10-4 Conference USA) to close out conference play as it notched a four-set victory over UAB (12-14, 7-7 C-USA), 3-1 (25-17, 16-25, 25-18, 25-22) Saturday afternoon at Memorial Gym. The squad locked in the No. 3 seed for the C-USA Championship Tournament. 

Torrance Lovesee led the match with 16 kills. Mattie Gantt (24) and Ashlynn Barnes (14) combined to put up 38 assists and Sara Pustahija had a match-high 10 digs. 

UTEP’s all-around performance held the statistical advantage in kills (54-36), blocks (12-10), hitting percentage (.231 – .114), but were out hit in service aces (4-7). 

“For three years in a row now, 2020, 21 and 22, we finished third in the conference each of those three seasons and that says a lot for our players here,” head coach ben Wallis said. “It says a lot for our coaching staff and for where our program is going. And I’m proud that in a year where we’re starting four and sometimes playing five freshmen on a young team that we were able to deal with that pressure and deal with that stress and still go out and finish where we were picked, which is hard to do sometimes.” 

SET ONE | After UTEP’s 5-1 lead to open the set, UAB closed the deficit to even it out 5-5, but that would be as close as the Blazers would get. The Miners jumped to a seven-point lead after the media timeout, 16-9. An error from UAB sent the Miners into the red zone and with UTEP at set point, UAB drove a 3-0 run, but their efforts fell short as a big kill by Serena Patterson won the set, 25-17. 

SET TWO | UAB found its rhythm to kick off the second set taking a 6-1 lead over UTEP. The Blazers kept a minimum three-point lead for the remainder of the set. With the Miners down by six, they took a timeout in an attempt to ice the Blazers during their 6-1 scoring run. Along with two errors from UAB, the Miners put up one last block and kill before the Blazers evened the match at 25-16. 

SET THREE | The Blazers had two rallies early in the third set, tying the score at four and 10. UAB came within one point, 13-12, just before the mediate timeout. After the break, the Miners produced a dynamic 7-1 scoring run to jump ahead 22-15. Three more kills from UTEP claimed the set win, 25-18, and a 2-1 advantage in the match. 

SET FOUR | UAB turned the fourth set around replicating its second set performance, taking a 10-5 lead over the Miners. UTEP’s 4-0 run closed the deficit by one point, 9-10. The Blazers drove another scoring spurt and yet again the Miners bounced back to come within one before the timeout. UTEP’s tied the set at 17 on a 3-0 run, but the Blazers stretched the lead by two. The Miners’ determination paid off as they responded with a 6-0 run to steal the lead, 23-19. UAB lucked out with an ace and a UTEP error, but back-to-back kills from the Miners extinguished the Blazers with a 3-1 match win. 

Final Thoughts from Coach Wallis       
“I’m proud of this team for a number of reasons. Number one, we were picked at No. 3 at the beginning of the year. And so obviously the people in our conference recognize that we are a program that is showing each year we’re going to give ourselves a chance to be near the top and win. Now, to do that, you’ve got to knock off one of the top two teams or both of the teams in the tournament, but to win this conference, it’s such a good, tough conference and it’s heavy at the top with two juggernauts in Western Kentucky and Rice. I’m excited to get to Bowling Green and prove our worth and try to come home with the trophy. We’re going to get prepared for three different teams. We’re finishing in the places where we can win, but now we’ve got to make some upsets and we’ve got to make some special, special matches happen to come home with this trophy in Diddle Arena on WKU’s home floor. I’m sure they’re going to be very motivated to play well and try to win a fourth consecutive conference championship with those seniors walking out the door. So, we’ve got a task ahead of us and it’s a tough one. We’re going to enjoy the end of our regular season. And winning and beating UAB here at home was not our best match. I mean, we struggled emotionally. We struggled with our energy but we found a way to grind out a win, which is what good teams do.” 

UP NEXT          
The Miners are set to face the Charlotte on the opening day of the Conference USA Championship Tournament on Friday, Nov. 18, in Bowling Green, Ky. hosted by Western Kentucky.