I suspect that few press boxes in America have the environment like the press box at Estes Stadium, where 30 minutes before a football game, part of the conversation concerns volleyball games, volleyball players and live stats from volleyball matches.
But that’s how Steven McRoberts has affected the culture at the University of Central Arkansas.
Volleyball is not just a sport that is being played during football season. It’s a conversation and source of pride.
The UCA Sugar Bears enter this weekend’s Southland Conference volleyball tournament at Huntsville, Texas, as the regular-season champions and the No. 1 seed. And they have the opportunity to be the first UCA team in Division I to reach NCAA postseason play.
Now, the UCA women must win it. The Sugar Bears’ RPI (69) and the Southland Conference RPI are not high enough for the league to warrant a team in the NCAA tournament other than the winner of the conference tournament, which gets an automatic bid.
"For our league, your RPI has to be in the high 30s or mid-40s to get a look," McRoberts said. "We had our chances in nonconference games early in the season (Oklahoma, LSU, Virginia Tech, Missouri and Western Kentucky) to improve that."
UCA enters the tournament with a 26-7 record, 15-1 in conference.
They have won 37 of their last 38 conference matches and have lost two road matches in conference the last three years.
McRoberts realizes something special is in the works.
"Staff like that doesn’t come around very often," McRoberts said. "Because winning in conference is so expected, there’s a tendency for people to overlook what these players are doing."
The Sugar Bears have two four-year starters and coincidentally, both are named Chloe — Chloe Evans and Chloe Smith. The latter Chloe has a 3.9 grade-point average and has been named Player of the Year in the League three straight times. During the tenure of the two Chloes, UCA has compiled an overall 101-26 mark, 53-11 in the Southland and 31-1 in the league the last two seasons.
"Right now, we have a good mix overall," McRoberts said. "And we’re not trying to fix what is not broken."
"We’ve been under pressure for two years (after a 26-game SLC winning streak during that period) the way teams have played us," McRoberts said. "Everybody in the tournament has the same (lose and done) pressure that we do. But they don’t have the team and talent that we do."
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or email@example.com)