In making their second straight appearance in the NCAA volleyball tournament, the University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears have a different mindset this season.
Last year, the Sugar Bears were a No. 4 seed in their region and were sent to Seattle, Wash., and lost to the Huskies, a No. 1 seed, in the first round.
This year, UCA (29-3) and the regular-season and tournament champion in the Southland Conference is a No. 3 seed in the Champaign Regional and will take on Purdue (20-11) at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Hearnes Center in Columbia, Mo.
If UCA wins its opening game, it will play the winner of IUPUI and undefeated Missouri in the second round Saturday night. The winner of that game advances to the regional finals the next weekend at Champaign, Ill.
“Last year, we didn’t really know what to expect; this year we have a better idea,” said UCA senior Marissa Collins after the announcement Sunday night. “We intend to keep going after it with a killer attitude. We are not scared of any team out there.”
“Playing the teams we have played in preseason (including No. 2 national seed Penn State) gives us the confidence we can do it. Our coach (David McFatrich) gives us the attitude of no fear,” said Beth Rogers
McFatrich said Sunday he didn’t know a lot about the Boilermakers.
“I do know they are from one of the top two conferences in the nation and they see stiff competition every week,” he said. “But it’s not like at this stage of the season they can change a lot of things or we can change a lot of things.”
Missouri, 34-0 and the No. 4 seed nationally, is the Southeastern Conference champion. The University of Arkansas is also in the 64-team field but will play in a sub-regional at Lawrence, Kan. The Sugar Bears and the Razorbacks are in opposite brackets and the only way they could meet is in the national title game.
“We kind of expected to go to Missouri,” Collins said. “I’m excited that we were sent closer to home so more of our fans can make the trip.”
McFatrich, in his third season as UCA coach, said the Sugar Bears, who went undefeated in both SLC regular-season play and the tournament, has been a special team.
“This team has been focused since Day 1, and we’ve been able to meet all our goals,” he said. “This group has been a coach’s dream.”
For their second straight trip to the NCAA Division I volleyball tournament, the University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears will head to an adjacent state for the first rounds.
The University of Texas is the top seed in the tournament, followed by Penn State, Washington and Missouri.
UCA finished the regular season ranked 45th. Purdue is ranked 29th.