EDINBURG — It was three years ago when a No. 5-seeded UTRGV entered the Western Athletic Conference volleyball tournament and put together a magical run with three-consecutive victories, resulting in winning the WAC crown and an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Barbara Silva, a four-year starter for the Vaqueros, was a key contributor as a freshman on the 2016 team that’s responsible for the two banners that hang inside the UTRGV Fieldhouse.
Now a senior, Silva and No. 4 seed UTRGV (14-16, 8-8 WAC) hope to go on another run with the 2019 WAC Tournament set to begin tonight. All games are being played at Utah Valley.
“My freshman year was crazy,” Silva said with a laugh. “I’m not going to lie: I kind of feel it’s kind of similar to 2016 this season with where we stand and all the games that we’ve played. The things that we’ve struggled with this year are the things that we struggled with my freshman year. Going into the tournament, it’s a big mental game and I just feel like this is so similar to 2016, but I know it’s different people so I’m not going to just expect the same thing to happen.”
Before the season started, UTRGV head coach Todd Lowery told people around him he thought the Vaqueros would enter the WAC Tournament as either a No. 4 or No. 5 seed. Despite being a young team and battling through some growing pains, he feels UTRGV is settling right in where they want to be.
“I said we were going to be a dangerous team come WAC Tournament time and I think we are a dangerous team. I’m not sure anybody is real excited to have us on their half of the bracket because I think we are dangerous,” Lowery said. “When we play well, we’re definitely capable of playing with anybody in the WAC.”
UTRGV must first get through No. 5 seed Utah Valley (10-18, 7-9 WAC), a team the Vaqueros split the season series with 1-1, playing to five sets on both occasions.
Lowery said one key to slowing down Utah Valley is making things tough on outside hitter Kazna Tarawhiti, who enters the WAC tourney with 389 kills with an average of nearly four per set.
“Utah Valley kind of goes as ‘Kaz’ goes, so if you can get to her, you make your life a lot easier,” he said. “When we’ve shut her down, whether it was for one or two sets or for periods of time, things have really gone our way against Utah Valley.”
Another key for UTRGV is dealing with Utah Valley’s blocking, but Silva and company are ready for the challenge.
“We know that our standing doesn’t actually matter because it’s all-in. Yes, we’ve had a lot of losses, we had good wins this season, but all of that is behind because in the tournament, it’s everything that you’ve worked for with all you got,” Silva said. “You take it one game at a time, and if you’re good for those three games, you can come out with a championship. I feel we’re mentally prepared for the tournament.”
No. 4 UTRGV is set for a 7 p.m. tonight start against No. 5 Utah Valley. The winner will advance to face top-seeded New Mexico State (25-3, 16-0 WAC) in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday, with the WAC Tournament championship game slated for 7 p.m. Saturday.