by Debbie Davis, Associate Director of Media Relations
Well, we're sitting at the halfway point of the 2011 Conference USA regular season volleyball race and the NCAA automatic bid is still up for grabs. For the past couple of seasons, only a trio of losses has separated No. 1 from No. 4 and, for three out of the last five years, only one loss was the difference between the champion and the runner-up. Looks like that could again be the case this season.
Currently sitting atop the C-USA leader board is defending champion Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane sports an overall mark of 17-5 and stands 8-1 in league action. After participating in the 2010 NCAA Championship, TU appeared at No. 23 in the AVCA Preseason Top 25 Poll and most recently the program found itself at No. 21 in the first addition of the NCAA Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) Report. Tulsa has only suffered one loss coming from rival SMU back on Oct. 5. In order to repeat as champion, first-year head coach Steven McRoberts must win on the road as six of TU's remaining 11 matches at away from the Reynolds Center. However, TU does host second-placed UAB on Oct. 30.
UAB entered last weekend as the hottest team in the league, riding a seven-match win streak and winners of 13 of its last 14 matches. The Blazers suffered their first two league losses as they ran into an offensive powerhouse in Tulsa's Tyler Henderson and crew Friday night, and an SMU team that's picked up momentum over the last few weeks. Head Coach Kerry Messersmith has her team at 7-2, behind Tulsa, and a solid 17-4 overall. Along with Rice and Houston, the Blazers are among the NCAA RPI Top 65, ranking 61st. Messersmith will be aiming for her first regular season title as the Blazers have a strong history of being a title contender.
Sporting an NCAA RPI of No. 44 is Houston. The Cougars had an extremely tough non-conference schedule as they faced five teams that were ranked among the AVCA Top 25. That competition has second-year head coach Molly Alvey prepped for a strong finish in the C-USA race. UH is currently 14-5 overall and tied with UAB for second in the league at 7-2. Of Houston's 11 remaining matches, seven will come against team in the second half of the current standings and six will be inside the friendly surroundings of the UH Athletics/Alumni Center, where they're undefeated (8-0).
After losing three of the league's best players a year ago, eighth-year head coach Genny Volpe has Rice sitting fourth in the standings and ranked No. 63 in the NCAA RPI. Volpe has coached her team to a 6-3 C-USA record and 11-9 overall. However, the next few weeks will be a challenge for the Owls as they will face one of the toughest roads to the championship. They must travel to UAB, UCF, a team that upset then-No. 1 USC, and UTEP as well as drive a few miles across the city to face Houston. Rice does get the opportunity to host Tulsa and a very different SMU team the beat on Sept. 30. Since that time, the Mustangs have taken down Tulsa, UAB and Houston.
Could Tulsa repeat? Will UAB win its first title? What about Houston? Is Rice experienced enough? Or, could SMU be the dark horse to win it all? We'd love to hear your thoughts.
Conference USA expects an unpredictable and exciting finish to the 2011 regular season race. Stay tuned to the C-USA Digital Network and ConferenceUSA.com for all the latest and most up-to-date volleyball news and results as we enter the second-half of the C-USA race.