Volleyball plans to surpass season’s skeptics

The University of the Incarnate Word’s volleyball team has been picked to finish in the bottom third of the Southland Conference, but the Cardinals’ coach begs to differ.

“We feel we could very well push to be among the top of the conference,” said Jen Montoya, who’s starting her 13th year as head coach.

Here are her reasons: “We have only graduated one senior, we have a battle-tested upper-class that has already shown signs of good leadership, our large freshmen class from last year is now a more seasoned sophomore class, and we have added a strong group of freshmen to the mix.”

Southland head coaches picked UIW to finish ninth and sports information directors picked UIW 10th. Last year, the Cardinals were 6-10 in the Southland Conference and 10-24 overall. The team opens the season Aug. 28 at the Pepperdine Tournament and play its first home match in Alice McDermott Convocation Center on Oct. 1 against Stephen F. Austin.

Montoya said she expects the team to be led by senior Angelique Vidaurri, sophomore Bryaunea Hall and freshman Autumn Lockley.

Vidaurri, a 5-foot-10-inch financial planning major from San Antonio, earned honorable mention all-conference honors as an outside hitter each of the two years. She averaged 3.32 kills per set in 2014 and needs just 100 more kills to reach 1,000 for her career.

“(Vidaurri) hits a heavy ball and carries a big offensive load for the team,” Montoya said.

Hall, a 6-foot-1 middle blocker, started all 34 matches last season as a true freshman from Copperas Cove, Texas. She is majoring in early childhood education.

Montoya described Hall as a “powerhouse in the middle. (She) hits a heavy ball and should generate a ton of defensive points with her blocking numbers.

The coach also is high on Lockley, a 5-foot-10 outside hitter from Leander, Texas.

“(Lockley is) “very athletic and could play a major role for the team this season,” Montoya said. “She is a primary passer and stabilizer.”

Overall, the coach said, “we are still a very young team, and have a tough pre-season schedule” including Division 1 teams such as Pepperdine, University of California-Santa Barbara, Texas Christian University and Tulane.

The pre-season schedule “will challenge us to grow,” Montoya said. “Our ultimate goal of pre-season is to get us ready for conference. Our focus for the season: Learn how to mentally prepare for what it takes to win at a high level. Our goal is to get better each day. We will focus on the process of success, and not on the outcome of matches. We will emphasize doing all the little things right.”

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