Bobcats look to replicate success, make history in NCAA tournament

Texas+State+volleyball+players+celebrate+a+victory+against+Coastal+Carolina+to+win+the+Sunbelt+Conference+Championship%2C+Sunday%2C+Nov.+24%2C+2019%2C+at+Strahan+Arena.+%5BPhoto+by+Kate+Connors%5D
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Bobcats look to replicate success, make history in NCAA tournament

Texas State volleyball players celebrate a victory against Coastal Carolina to win the Sunbelt Conference Championship, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, at Strahan Arena. [Photo by Kate Connors]

Texas State volleyball players celebrate a victory against Coastal Carolina to win the Sunbelt Conference Championship, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, at Strahan Arena. [Photo by Kate Connors]

Kate Connors

Texas State volleyball players celebrate a victory against Coastal Carolina to win the Sunbelt Conference Championship, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, at Strahan Arena. [Photo by Kate Connors]

Kate Connors

Kate Connors

Texas State volleyball players celebrate a victory against Coastal Carolina to win the Sunbelt Conference Championship, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, at Strahan Arena. [Photo by Kate Connors]

Cade Andrews, Sports Reporter

For the second straight year, the Texas State volleyball team clinched a spot in the NCAA tournament. The Bobcats will face the Gauchos of U.C. Santa Barbara Thursday, Dec. 5th at Gregory Gymnasium in Austin, Texas.

Texas State earned its spot in the playoffs after winning the Sun Belt Conference Championship. After sweeping Troy 25-14, 25-14, 25-18 in the semifinals, they beat Coastal Carolina 3-1 (26-24, 19-25, 25-21, 25-18) in front of the third largest crowd in program history. The win secured their second consecutive NCAA tournament qualification, moved their national ranking to 31st and was a rematch of sorts after the Chants defeated the Bobcats in the 2017 Sun Belt Championship.

Head coach Karen Chisum said that the team prepared in practice to make their goal as Sun Belt champions come alive.

“August 10th, when we came in, our goal was to repeat as conference champs,” Chisum said. “Everyday at practice it’s the same thing. A lot of reps, training both physically and mentally.”

Senior outside hitter Cheyenne Huskey was the third Bobcat in history to be selected as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and was joined by sophomore setter Emily DeWalt on the All-Tournament Team. The Bobcats also took multiple Sun Belt awards, with Huskey and DeWalt both taking First Team spots and DeWalt taking the Sun Belt Setter of the Year.  Rounding out the Sun Belt awards were sophomore outside hitter Janell Fitzgerald and junior middle blocker Tyeranee Scott on the All-Sun Belt Second Team.

The Bobcats are now heading into the NCAA tournament for the 11th time and third time since joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2013. The Bobcats’ opening round match will be hosted by No. 3 seed Texas. The winner of Texas State vs. UC Santa Barbara will meet the winner of Texas vs. Albany to advance in the tournament.

Huskey said that postseason play requires more effort and dedication than what they’ve seen during the regular season.

“The level of play is much higher in the postseason,” Huskey said. “It’s going to take a lot of energy and a lot of heart from all of us. Hopefully we can stay together and continue to play well.”

UC Santa Barbara comes from the Big West Conference and enters the tournament 22-5 overall and 12-4 in the Big West compared to Texas State’s 24-8, 14-2 records. Comparison is difficult, as Texas State and UC Santa Barbara have only played Long Beach State as a similar opponent. The Bobcats beat Long Beach State 3-2 back in September, while UC Santa Barbara split the season with them, beating them 3-1 and then getting swept later in the season. Both teams appear evenly matched and are neck-and-neck in rankings, with UC Santa Barbara just behind at 32nd in the NCAA. The Bobcats’ strong defense on the front line, which averages 2.18 blocks per set, will pair up against the Gauchos’ Lindsey Ruddins, who currently paces the program in all-time kills. The Cats have a slight deficit in hitting percentage and kills per set but will see an advantage in their strong depth from the bench as well as service aces, with 1.55 aces per set to the Gauchos’ 1.21.

If the Bobcats advance in play, they’ll have a near replica game and a chance at redemption against No. 3 University of Texas in the second round. After knocking down Rice to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history, the ‘Cats’ were swept by the Longhorns on their home turf in Austin last season.

Chisum said that despite advancing last season, they’ll focus on UC Santa Barbara and avoid looking ahead.

“My focus is to not let them get too far ahead,” Chisum said. “I take it one at a time, but you’ve got to have dreams and goals, so it’s good to set the expectations high.”

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