In August, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga volleyball players spoke confidently about how they were going to end a 16-year streak in which the program had failed to win a Southern Conference championship.
They did their part with a 24-5 overall record, a 13-3 mark in conference play and the program's first SoCon regular-season title since 1999.
And on Wednesday, they were rewarded for it.
UTC's Travis Filar was named SoCon coach of the year, two seasons after the Mocs went 4-27. Also, junior hitters Allie Davenport and Kristy Wieser were selected to the all-conference first team, while senior libero Catherine Chason and sophomore setter Lauren Greenspoon were chosen to the second team.
In addition, Chason was selected as the SoCon student-athlete of the week, recognizing her 3.83 grade point average as an early childhood education major as well as her 54 digs in two key road wins last weekend.
The team has been balanced all year, with four players — Davenport, Wieser, senior Briana Reid and senior Sarah Batterton — all exceeding 290 kills. Senior Lauren Gainer has 138 kills.facebook
"That is what makes this group unique, special and different," Filar said Tuesday. "The fact they knew from day one that they had one big main goal to set their sights and hearts on, and that was to win the regular-season championship in conference, and the fact they were tough enough and confident enough to say that, get it out there and put it in print, and to have backed it up by going out and doing it speaks to how incredible this group is.
"From one to 16, I've never been around a group like this that's as confident and as tough."
The Mocs will face the winner of No. 8 seed Western Carolina and No. 9 The Citadel at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Ramsey Center in Cullowhee, N.C. It will be a return to the site where the Mocs rallied from an 0-2 deficit to defeat Western Carolina 3-2 last Saturday, a victory that clinched the outright title.
The Mocs had to rally from an 0-2 match-score deficit the day before as well, this time against East Tennessee State. The Lady Bucs had 11 match points, but couldn't finish one against UTC.
This week, Filar has shortened practices, with the Mocs playing a number of best-of-five mini-matches and the losing team facing consequences.
"We don't want to start on our heels," Reid said. "We want the opportunity to be aggressive so the other team doesn't get confident, and that's a big deal, because when we start on our heels, the other team has a chance to build themselves up instead of us imposing our will. We have to start well, because essentially in a game the consequence is a loss, but in a tournament, it's win or go home — so lose and that's it."
The season, with its many high points — an 11-game winning streak, a victory over ranked Virginia Tech, winning the conference — has definitely been considered a success. The Mocs want to take the next step and qualify for the NCAA tournament. Three wins this weekend will make that happen.
If that occurs, the slightly faded "Mocs Volleyball" sign in Maclellan Gymnasium that sports a most recent regular-season title of 1999 and most recent NCAA appearance of 1998 will need to be adjusted even more.
"The last two matches we had were heart attacks, but everyone just dug deep, pushed, and we were able to get the job done. Coach says we're a gritty team," Wieser said.
"We need to work on our starts, and we're working on that, but when it comes down to it, we know we don't want to lose, so we're going to put everything we have into it and finish those matches."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.