To University of Central Arkansas volleyball coach Steve McRoberts, it might as well a been a rocket spike to the gut.
Instead, the Sugar Bears lost the Southland Conference volleyball championship, and an NCAA bid, with a soft tough shot over the net.
That was the deciding point to Texas-San Antonio in the SLC title match after the Sugar Bears had fought from two sets down and 15-9 in the third set to win two sets in a row, forcing the decisive fifth set, which the Roadrunners won 15-13.
"In 15 years of coaching volleyball, I don’t remember a longer hangover for losing a game as I’ve experienced the past week after we lost that championship game," McRoberts said Monday before an appearance at the weekly Bearbackers luncheon. "I thought this was a good matchup for us. No team in the conference would give us more motivation to beat than UTSA (which ended the Sugar Bears’ 31-game winning conference streak over two seasons with a regular-season victory in San Antonio). "UTSA just played a great game against us.
"The type of shot they hit to win the match I would rather they had gone up to ram it down our throat than when you see someone just gingerly touching it over the end of the net to win the match. It just makes you sick."
But, in reflection, McRoberts said there are a lot of things to feel good about.
"A lot of things have to fall into place for us to have that kind of season," he said.
The Sugar Bears finished 28-8 and seven of the teams that inflicted defeats on UCA are playing in the NCAA tourney.
It was the most Division I wins for a UCA volleyball team against the toughest schedule. The Sugar Bears finished with a 68 RPI, the most for a UCA athletic team since it has gone into Division I. NCAA at-large bids went as high as 46 RPI. UTSA, which gained the Southland’s automatic bid (and only bid because of the league RPI) finished with a 122 RPI.
UCA senior Chloe Smith earned her third straight Player of the Year Award in the Southland and McRoberts thinks she has a strong chance of earning her third straight Female Student-Athlete of the Year Award in the conference, which is based on both on-court performance and GPA.
Clarissa Collins was Setter of the Year and Freshman of the Year in the conference, marking the fourth time in five years the Sugar Bears have had the Freshman of the Year in the league.
"That tells me we are recruiting the right student-athletes for our sport," McRoberts said.
UCA returns 10 of its 12 players for next year and will host the SLC tourney.