By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (October 21, 2015) — Tarleton State senior middle Meg Umbel and sophomore setter Chandler Gow agree the Wednesday showdown between Lone Star Conference co-leaders Angelo State and the TexAnns is the biggest home match in Tarleton history.
First serve at Wisdom Volleyball Gym is set for 7 p.m., and athletic officials at Tarleton have announced a “Black Out” will be held to add to the atmosphere.
“Because of the position we have put ourselves in this year, it is the biggest match we’ve ever had here,” said Umbel. “We’re making history and (Wednesday) is going to be great.”
Gow, the distributor in the powerful Tarleton attack, added, “We’re making history this year and this is a big milestone game, one that could accelerate our season even further.”
Their head coach is not as quick to agree.
“Yes and no,” answered 11th year head coach Mary Schindler when asked if this home match is the biggest. “To me every match is the biggest from here on out. Once you start doing what we’re doing, winning and setting a tone, every game you play has that same importance in order to keep that going.
“We’ll certainly be geared up. We’ll be jumping higher, hitting harder, there’s no doubt we know what’s going on and how big this is in the standings,” Schindler added. “But we have to play someone after that, and once this match is over, we have to get just as fired up and ready for that one. It will be a hard sell, to build it up as much as this one, but we have to. That’s just what we have to do to sustain this level of success.”
Of course, it’s Schindler’s job to downplay big matches and emphasize ones that seemingly aren’t as big on paper, to maintain some semblance of levelheadedness amongst a team of players seemingly all ready to explode in anticipation of their chance to add to school history.
Not that this Tarleton teams has not already etched its name in the school record books.
The TexAnns have won 10 straight matches, their longest such streak since joining the NCAA in 1994. The overall school record of 12 straight wins was achieved in the NAIA in 1991.
Tarleton has won eight straight LSC matches, its only loss coming at Angelo State, when they committed 35 errors and fell in four sets on September 16.
How dominant has Tarleton been since?
The TexAnns have won 30 of 35 stets during the win streak, sweeping five matches.
How successful have the TexAnns been at home?
They are 9-0 this season, sweeping six opponents and winning 27 of 30 sets. Tarleton is 73-19 at home since 2008.
“We have a huge advantage being here,” said Umbel, who stole a line from a quote by Angelo State head coach Chuck Waddington in the match preview on angelosports.com. “‘It’s going to be a ‘zoo,’ and I think if we play our game completely we’ll come out on top.”
Of course, none of the first nine opponents to make their way through Stephenville were Angelo State, which is 25-4 in 29 LSC sets while Tarleton is 22-8 over 30 sets in conference play. On the flip side, it’s Tarleton that leads the LSC in a bevy of team and individual statistical categories.
As a team, Tarleton leads the LSC in hitting percentage (.246), opponent hitting percentage (.137), assists per set (14.07), opponent assists per set (10.24), kills per set (14.75), opponent kills per set (10.79) and blocks per set (2.41). Tarleton is second in the nation in assists per set and fourth in kills per set.
Hailey Roberts, a sophomore outside hitter who was a third-team All-American as a freshman, leads the nation in total kills (457) and kills per set (6.18). She has 99 more total kills and 1.27 more per set than second place.
Meg Umbel leads the LSC in hitting percentage (.370) and blocks per set (1.25), Roberts is tops in kills (6.18) and aces (0.68) per set and Chandler Gow is the league leader in assists per set (11.96).
“It’s awesome to have so many good hitters, not just (Roberts and Umbel), but everyone on our team,” said Gow. “All of them are so reliable and consistent. Some days when we are really on, I feel like I can set it anywhere and I can’t go wrong.”
Of course, ASU could fill a chalkboard, or an iPad screen in modern times, with its own impressive statistics. The Rambelles are between second and fourth in the LSC in most team stat categories, topping the league in digs per set and aces allowed. They are the only team in the league allowing less than an ace per set (0.83). Tarleton is second at 1.00.
While ASU doesn’t have a hitter with near the numbers Roberts has posted for Tarleton, Rambelles Mallory Blauser and Brianna Sotello are third and fourth in the league with 4.05 and 3.59 kills per set. Abby Lynn has also worked her way into the top 20 (18th) at 2.50.
Maggi Jo Keffury of ASU is second behind Gow in assists per set, averaging 11.83. ASU libero Katie MacLeay leads the LSC and is in the top 10 nationally in digs per set at 5.75.
“Are we capable of beating ASU? Yeah we are we’ve proven that,” said Schindler, whose club swept ASU at home last season and defeated the Rams in five sets to win Tarleton’s first LSC Championship final.
“Will it be easy to do again? No. We have to execute and be at our best to have a shot because they are a very good team,” Schindler added. “They are still the team everyone looks to as the top team in our conference, and we’re the ones trying to change that.”
That’s not an obstacle Schindler hasn’t tackled already in her career at Tarleton. She’s quite used to being told what the TexAnns can’t do, and is enjoying showing everyone what they can achieve.
“I was 23 and they were ridiculous to hire me,” said Schindler, who first caught athletic director Lonn Reisman’s attention as a fiery player and leader for the TexAnns. “But it’s been a blessing and I love it, and we’ve won a few games.”
Actually, she’s won 198 of them, the most of any Tarleton volleyball coach.
Reisman easily recalls exactly what he saw in Schindler and why he and a committee decided to hand over the keys to the program to a head coach who had barely completed her eligibility as a player.
“I watched her as a player and I couldn’t help but notice the way others around her fed off her fire and enthusiasm, and I always thought she would make a great coach,” Reisman said. “We knew there would be growing pains, she would have to learn to manage a program and a budget, but those were all things we could help her with and she could learn through experience. What we didn’t want to let get away is what we see today, and I believe that’s one of the best volleyball coaches in the nation.”
Schindler knew what she was walking into.
“When I got started I wanted the opportunity to grow myself while building a program, and to get to do that here is incredible,” Schindler says. “I knew when I got the job we had people here who expected the program to change and were committed to seeing it do that. They weren’t happy where we were, and neither was I.”
No one is complaining now.
“I’m the type I always believe we can win. Even in the games we shouldn’t, I believe it,” she said. “If you don’t aspire to be the best, you never will be.”
Her TexAnns aspire to be the best in the LSC, and they just might be.
On Wednesday, they can take a big step toward proving it.
“This is our dream,” said Umble. “To be in this position, in this game playing for fist place. This is where all of us, the seniors, believed we would be.”
Schindler believed it, too. And Reisman when he hired her.
On Wednesday, Wisdom Gym will be a ‘zoo.’ For perhaps what really is the biggest home match in Tarleton history.