On Friday night, Dec. 1, the USC football team played in the Pac-12 championship game against Stanford. The Trojans won, 31-28.
I watched most of the game on ESPN.
The same night, the USC volleyball team played in the opening round of the NCAA tournament against the UCA Sugar Bears. I watched it on my computer as the match was live streamed on the Pac-12 website.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how Central Arkansas athletic teams have had a good bit of success in qualifying for postseason play since making the move to NCAA Division I just a few years ago.
The football Bears have made the FCS Playoffs four of the past seven years. The baseball team made the NCAA tournament in 2013, almost advancing on to the Super Regionals, having marched through the losers bracket before falling to regional host Mississippi State in the winner-take-all game.
Softball qualified for the Big Dance in 2015. Men’s soccer made it in 2017. Women’s basketball has made back-to-back trips in 2016 and 2017. Volleyball has made it in 2012, 2013 and again here in 2017. Each of those times, UCA has been matched against a much higher-seeded opponent and thus been a big underdog. And alas, each of those times they did end up losing.
But one of these days, a Bear team is going pull a Cinderella upset and advance. For a little while, I thought it might be this recent Friday night.
A volleyball match is best three-out-of-five sets. The Sugar Bears won the opener 25-22. The second set was tied at 22-all before USC escaped 25-23 to square the match at one apiece.
The third set was competitive, but USC won 25-18, then also took the fourth 25-12.
The Sugar Bears played well. Very well. Inch for inch, UCA’s players were every bit as good as USC’s. The only problem was, USC had quite a few more inches. The Trojans were very tall. And a bit deeper. But the Sugar Bears represented themselves and the school very well. The Pac-12 announcer heaped quite a bit of praise on the Sugar Bears that night.
I’m certainly no volleyball expert, but I did help officiate a game or two while in college. Back in the fall of 1991, during my last semester at UCA, I needed a couple of electives to keep fulltime status, so I enrolled in a class called Sports Officiating.
It was a fun class, and part of the curriculum included that we got to serve as line judges at UCA volleyball matches. Our only job was to call balls in or out if they hit near the line. I’m pretty sure I missed a few calls.
I’m glad UCA volleyball has evolved past guys like me making line calls. I’m also glad that the entire UCA athletic department has evolved up to NCAA Division I.