Lions seek strong finish against tough opponents

UNA assistant volleyball coach Jennifer McCall (left) talks to junior Sarah Ann Tillery (15) during a game against West Alabama Oct 13. The Lions are 23-6 on the season with two games left to play.

The UNA volleyball team is close to wrapping up the regular season with just two road games remaining, one of which is a potential revenge game, while the other holds major implications.

The Lions, who finished with a 13-1 home record, will end the regular season against West Florida and Valdosta State.

“Right now it’s really important for us to focus on these last two regular season matches one at a time,” said head coach Stephanie Radecki. “We would love to earn a bye (in the GSC tournament) and not have to turn around and play right away.”

UNA secured a spot in the Gulf South Conference tournament with the win against Alabama-Huntsville Nov. 5. However, the outcomes determining the seeding are still to come.

Until this point in the season, the Lions have swept 16 of their 29 opponents and have outscored opponents 1375 to 1023. The Lions are also riding a seven-game winning streak.

Radecki says her team has improved a lot since the beginning of the season, especially in the team’s blocking ability.

“Overall blocking is something that we continually work on,” she said. “We still have three people playing (middle hitter) that don’t have a lot of experience in that role. From the beginning of the season to now, they’ve improved a lot. It’s allowed us to be more successful offensively.”

Senior setter Andrea De Leon, who leads the GSC in assists per set, said the Lions’ defensive effort has improved as well.

“Our defense has been strong all year, but I feel now we’re going for balls that we weren’t going for at the beginning of the year,” De Leon said. “We’re making more defensive plays, and we’re also blocking better than we were at the beginning of the season.”

Junior outside hitter Natasha Fomina said the team has been mixing things up offensively to throw off other teams.

“We’ve been working on a lot of different plays with our offense,” Fomina said. “It keeps other teams on their toes. They don’t know what we are going to run, and it gives us an advantage.”

Depending on the outcome of UNA’s final two matches, the Lions could enter the GSC tournament as the No. 2 or No. 3 seed. The top two seeds receive first round byes.

West Florida is the only GSC foe the Lions have not beaten at least once this season. Knowing that, Radecki said the Lions are confident they can beat anyone headed into the tournament.

Last season, UNA made it to the conference championship match but came up just short, falling to Valdosta State 3-0.

Winning conference has been our goal this entire season,” Fomina said. “Every practice and game has been a preparation to accomplish that. It would be incredible to win it this year and to finally have that feeling of accomplishment after last year.”

The outcome of the conference tournament plays a vital part in regional rankings and whether the Lions continue postseason play.

The regional rankings determine which teams qualify for the NCAA tournament.

Eight teams make the field, including conference champions from the GSC, the Sunshine State Conference and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference as an automatic bid, followed by the next five highest-ranking teams.

“There are still too many games to be played to even worry about (regional rankings) right now,” Radecki said. “Bottom line is we need to win matches. I feel like our team understands that and is ready for the challenges we will face soon.”

The Lions travel to Pensacola, Florida, to play West Florida Nov. 13, before finishing the regular season in Valdosta, Georgia, Nov. 15.