The University of Central Arkansas football team will try to defeat a major college opponent Saturday. The Sugar Bears’ volleyball team already has a signature win on the mantle.
Last weekend in a tournament at the University of Arizona, the Sugar Bears defeated 20th-ranked Kansas (9th in NCAA RPI), 3-1. It was a victory over a Jayhawk team coming off the best season in school history with everybody back.
“I gave the biggest bear hug of my life to Jon (Newberry, assistant coach),” said Sugar Bear coach David McFatrich. “Nobody thought they would win except our players and our coaching staff.”
The Sugar Bears later lost to Arizona then defeated Morgan State to go 2-1 in the tournament.
McFatrich said the coach of host Arizona told him that “You are better than I thought you would be and if I’d known that, I wouldn’t have scheduled you.”
Scheduling is a downside of the Sugar Bears’ run of success, which featured a 30-5 team last year that won both a Southland Conference regular season and tournament championship and the university’s first berth in the NCAA tournament.
The only other NCAA Division I team to win 30 games last year was Penn State, whom McFatrich describes as the “Alabama of women’s volleyball” (four national championships in the last six years).
The Sugar Bears, who host their own tournament this weekend at the Prince Center, will play Penn State in a tournament in a couple of weeks in Florida.
“We’re trying to schedule top teams in case we have a hiccup during the season, our RPI will be high enough to get in the tournament,” McFatrich said.
But there’s a catch.
“A lot of the good and top-ranked teams want to play us and we want to play them, but nobody wants to play here (Prince Center),” McFatrich said. “It’s very difficult to get a home-and-home to get an attractive home schedule in non-conference. The teams in our tournament (Jackson State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Louisiana Monroe) are not what we played in Arizona, but it’s what we could get.”
But McFatrich and his staff plan to coach the same way, regardless of the opponent.
“We are fearless and aggressive and we don’t care who you are,” he said.
In addition to the success on the court, McFatrich proudly pointed out to Bearbackers this week some other key statistics.
Nine of his 15 players had grade-point averages greater than 3.0.
Since Jan. 1, UCA volleyball players have put in 2,500 hour coaching girls club teams and participating in camps.
“For six years, our girls have put in more than 15,000 hours that incudes going to the emergency room and birthday parties for young girls and answering questions their parents can’t answer,” he said “We’ve had players drive six or seven hours, coach a team all weekend, then dive back to UCA in time to go to class.”
And the coaching experience has apparently helped the on-court experience.
“When you view a game from the sideline, you see some things a little bit differently,” McFatrich said. “It definitely helps the way you play when you coach it.”
It’s all a part of a proud program, both on and off the court.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or david.mccollumD@thecabin.net. Follow him on Twitter @dmaclcd)