Sugar Bears photo

The University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears locked their spot in the Southland Conference Tournament which begins March 31 at the Dugan Wellness Center in Corpus Christi, Texas.

It was a cause for celebration Thursday in Conway as the University of Central Arkansas officially clinched a spot in the SLC tournament.

All the Sugar Bears needed was one win to claim their spot as one of the top eight teams in the conference, and they did just that Thursday with a 3-1 victory against Nicholls.

This cause for celebration was led by senior Amari Mitchell’s relentless presence at the net.

Mitchell provided an amazing effort in every aspect of her game as she finished with 12 kills on a .364 hitting percentage, six total blocks and five digs.

The first set was all Sugar Bears as they hit an astronomical .455 hitting percentage, compared to their counterparts that hit -.133.

Those numbers essentially told the whole story as UCA took the lead early and never withered.

Halfway through the set, the Sugar Bears continued showing their dominance as they led 17-6 after a timeout.

The train continued to power on as UCA coasted to the finish in the massive 25-9 set victory.

UCA continued to pick up the pace at the beginning of the second as it controlled the lead 8-3.

Mitchell played a massive role in that quick deficit as she propelled the Sugar Bears with one block and two kills.

However, from that point, the Colonels turned the corner and began to make a steady run at the lead.

Nicholls got within three, but UCA continued to pressure them as senior Amanda Beaton and junior Ravin Rhodes produced kills in bunches.

That pressure produced a few critical mistakes as the Sugar Bears escaped the second after an attacking error by the Colonels.

Nicholls, however, got their revenge in the third as they came out with an early fire.

The Colonels reaped the benefits of a few early mistakes as they led at the midway point 15-10.

The Sugar Bears were not buried yet, as they produced a tie at the 16th point before Nicholls followed with a six-point run.

UCA came back similarly with five points of their own, but it wasn’t enough as they ran out of runs in the 25-23 set defeat.

If the Colonels got a redemption set, it was only fair the Sugar Bears got one in the final set.

After hitting -.028 in the previous set, UCA increased their production by increasing the attack numbers and efficiency as they hit .283.

Most of that production came at the halfway point as it went on a 6-0 run to make it 15-6.

From that point on, it was a back-and-forth effort as both teams went on mini runs, but it was the initial deficit that got the Sugar Bears the 25-14 set victory.

Up next, UCA will return to action Saturday at the Farris Center, as it will honor the seniors against Southeastern Louisiana.

“Really proud of the way we started and the way we finished today,” coach John Newberry said.

“Our middles did an incredible job, Amari Mitchell with 12 kills and Ravin Rhodes with 10. We stuck to our game plan really well, Nicholls made an adjustment we have never seen before within the Southland Conference. It took us too long to make an adjustment, but we were able to make an adjustment and bounce back. It felt good to bounce back and go in with confidence for our next match Saturday.”

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