A California girl, Heather accepted a volleyball scholarship last year to the University of Central Arkansas sight unseen.

Shy and standoffish, she was a bit taken aback and knocked out of her already uncomfortable comfort zone when she was greeted by hugs and welcome-to-the-family smiles when she arrived on campus.

This was to be a stopgap deal.

UCA volleyball coach David McFatrich was informed by the liaisons in her recruiting that this was just a semester deal, that she would return to play in California the next semester.

A funny thing happened on the way back to the West Coast community.

UCA has been one of the winningest volleyball programs in the country the last three years.

A large part of it is talent. A part of it is coaching.

But a large part is McFatrich and his assistants, John and Brittany Newberry, are nurturers.

They create an atmosphere that permeates chemistry.

The Sugar Bears won a school-record 30 games last season and advanced to the NCAA Division I tournament.

They enter this weekend’s Southland Conference tournament with a 19-match winning streak and a 26-3 overall record. They went 18-0 in the SLC during the regular season and none of the matches went five sets. The vast majority were decided in straight sets.

Despite all that, the Sugar Bears are walking a tightrope. The Southland is normally a one-bid league for the NCAA Division I tournament. But if they can reach the finals, then lose, their body of work, strength of nonconference schedule and RPI might be good enough for an at-large bid.

But here’s one something that creates confidence and hope.

Heather Schnars returned to California last December. Her friends and recruiting coordinator greeted her with "welcome home!"

No, the freshman told them, Central Arkansas was her new home.

Schnars, now a sophomore, last week was the SLC’s Offensive Player of the Week.

In the world of big-girl NCAA volleyball, the Sugar Bears, strong as they are, have little margin for error.

But the bonding agent is good.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)