UCA Volleyball photo

University of Central Arkansas head volleyball coach John Newberry celebrates with his team during volleyball season’s opening weekend in Nacogdoches, Texas.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas — The University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears dropped the first two games of the season as they fell just short of two come from behind victories.

UCA fought valiantly as it took on two championship programs in a doubleheader to start the season.

The Sugar Bears came close to defying the odds as they forced a set five against Texas State, from the Sun Belt, and almost forced a set five against reigning Southland Conference Champions Stephen F. Austin.

TSU 3, UCA 2In the five-set thriller, the Sugar Bears nearly mounted an astonishing come-from-behind victory after facing an early 2-0 deficit, but fell just short in the match’s final moments.

After falling behind early, the squad’s experienced veterans carried the team to a near miraculous finish as almost all of the stat leaders were returning squad members.

Senior Amanda Beaton showcased her ability to lead as she set career highs in kills (24) and digs (10).

While Beaton put it down, senior Bailey Waddington served it up for her as she accumulated a team-high 50 assists.

Senior Emily Doss joined these two in putting on a spectacle as she led the Sugar Bears with 21 digs, while junior Ravin Rhodes was a force down low with three blocks.

“Our match versus Texas State was one that I’ll remember for a very long time,” first-year UCA head coach John Newberry said. “After being down two sets, we made a couple of adjustments and were able to gain heavy momentum for the next two sets. At the end of set five, we had game-point twice, and we were in two rotations that have caused us trouble throughout the match.

“We didn’t capitalize on a couple of chaotic moments like we have been doing in practice and that mattered at the very end. Amanda Beaton and Lexi Miller both had incredible matches today. They both seemed to be unstoppable throughout most of all five sets. Texas State had several big-time attackers and I thought our defense was able to finally make some changes and come up with some high-level plays.”

SFA 3, UCA 1The second game wasn’t as forgiving as the first as UCA fell behind in the early goings again, but couldn’t fight its way out of the hole.

Against the top team in the Southland Conference, the Sugar Bears could not find their rhythm as their offense fell flat in the first two sets.

Just as they did before, they drew hidden momentum out and grabbed the third set, but were unable to make it out of the fourth set this time.

Beaton made the game’s difference once again as she led the Sugar Bears in both kills (11) and aces (2).

Sophomore Alexis Stumbough showcased her ability to battle as she led the team with 11 digs.

“There were a lot of times where we had to figure things out as we went,” Newberry said. “Everyone got their temperature checked before getting onto the bus, before entering into the gym, and again at the end of the day before heading home. There were no coin tosses, high-fives or handshakes between teams and coaches.

“And no one was allowed to hug or talk to their families inside of the gym. With all of these new and weird protocols that we are not used to yet, I’m so proud of the team today. Being able to play as the first game for all of the NCAA is an honor.”

UCA will host their first couple of home games next weekend as Little Rock is set to face the Sugar Bears at 6 p.m. Friday, and Arkansas State is following at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Farris Center.

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