VOLLEYBALL: Cougars aiming for turnaround
The Cougars begin Conference USA play tonight hoping to make this year a tale of two seasons. Based on their nonconference schedule they have nowhere to go but up.
UH’s record stands at 3-12, and its three wins came against Southeastern Louisiana, Boise State and Alcorn State. The three teams have won four games between them, and all four of those victories belong to Southeastern Louisiana.
Compared to their C-USA counterparts, the Cougars have the second-worst nonconference record. To make matters worse, they have lost six matches without winning a set, and are statistically last in the league in hitting percentage, assist average and kill average.
With such a frustrating start to the year, the Cougars could easily be expected to enter conference play with a defeatist attitude, but that isn’t the case. In the Cougars’ minds, their season starts tonight when they travel to Birmingham, Ala.
‘In our minds we are 0-0,’ head coach Bill Walton said. ‘Our season starts this week.’
Despite the early struggles, Walton has found some positives in his team, particularly the way the right side of his lineup is playing.
‘Our strengths right now are our libero (Amanda Carson); she’s playing excellent defense,’ Walton said. ‘She’s had 20 or 30 digs a couple times, and our right (side) players are carrying the load hitting.’
Walton does also recognize the need for the team to play well as a whole, and that it will take more than just a strong right side to succeed the rest of the way.’
‘We’ve got to get some more kills out of our middle hitters,’ Walton said. ‘And we’ve got to get some kills out of our left side. If we can do that we should be fine.’
The Cougars have also been making some adjustments, including shuffling their lineup. Still, they are limited with the changes they can make, due to struggling players and injuries.’
‘Ingrida (Zauere) still can’t hit a ball, and Marluci (Toazzi) didn’t play on Saturday and hasn’t practiced all week,’ Walton said. ‘We’re going to try and figure out what to do with our lineup.’
The Cougars’ road to redemption begins this weekend when they take on Alabama-Birmingham (7-8) and Memphis (2-12).
The Blazers come into conference play losers of three consecutive matches, with their only significant win this season coming in the form of a 3-2 victory over Memphis. The Blazers are second in C-USA in block average and service ace average.
The Tigers also come into the weekend on a bit of a skid, having lost five in a row and owning the worst overall record in C-USA. Memphis is third in the conference in digs, but is second to last in hitting percentage, kill average and service ace average.
An important factor in winning matches is momentum. In the course of a match, a team has to maintain or control momentum, as it can ultimately decide a close contest. One key to doing so is maintaining a high side-out percentage and reducing service reception errors.
The Cougars have 82 service reception errors compared to 56 for their opponents. Walton says reducing service reception errors is the team’s top priority.
‘We’ve been doing it all week, 40 minutes a day, every day, nothing but passing balls,’ Walton said. ‘It’s been the focus of our practices since the beginning of the year.’
The Cougars take on the Blazers tonight at 6 p.m. and wrap up the road trip Saturday when they travel to Memphis for a 7 p.m. match.