501 Life Magazine | UCA volleyball schedule released
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UCA volleyball schedule released

Coming off of a third NCAA Tournament Appearance in the past six years, the Central Arkansas Sugar Bears are looking to continue a run off success that has seen them consistently sit at the top of the Southland Conference in 2018. They will look to do so with a 32-match schedule that sees them play a pair of tournaments in Arkansas and features a non-conference slate that includes teams from the Sun Belt, American, Missouri Valley and Ohio Valley.

“I really like our non-conference schedule again this year,” said Central Arkansas head coach Jeni Jones Chatman. “We’re playing some really solid teams that will not only prepare us as we continue through the non-conference portion of our schedule, but also as we move into Southland Conference play.”

Central Arkansas fans will have their first opportunity to see the 2018 Sugar Bears on Friday, Aug. 17, and Saturday, Aug. 18, as UCA takes to the floor at the Prince Center for its annual Purple and Gray Scrimmage (Aug. 17) and Alumni Match (Aug, 18).

The Sugar Bears will officially open the 2018 season on the road, heading to Davidson, N.C., for Friday, Aug. 24, and Saturday, Aug. 25, to take part in the Wildcat Classic, hosted by Davidson. Central Arkansas will take on the host Wildcats at 6 p.m. CT Aug. 24, before facing off with Williams and Mary (9 a.m. CT) and Marist (3 p.m. CT) on the Aug. 25. Chatman and her squad will then head to Martin, Tenn., for UT Martin’s Skyhawk Invitational Thursday, Aug. 30, through Saturday, Sept. 1, taking on UT Martin (Aug. 30), Alabama-Birmingham (Aug. 31), Memphis (Sept. 1) and Florida A&M (Sept. 1).

Central Arkansas will then return to Conway to open the home portion of its schedule with the Central Arkansas Invitational, which will take place in the Farris Center on Thursday, Sept. 6, through Saturday, Sept. 8. The Sugar Bears will open the weekend’s action against in-state rival Little Rock at 7 p.m. on Sept. 6, before battling South Dakota (7 p.m. Sept. 7), and Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1 p.m. Sept. 8).

“Obviously, any time we have the opportunity to play at home, we take full advantage of that, and I think we have a really solid group of teams to make up the Central Arkansas Invitational,” said Chatman. “The fans that we are able to have at UCA make that experience even greater for our student-athletes.”

UCA will close out the non-conference slate on the road, but in the state, making the short trip to Jonesboro to take part in Arkansas State’s A-State Invitational on Thursday, Sept. 13, through Saturday, Sept. 15. After opening the tournament against the Red Wolves on Thursday, the Sugar Bears will take on Jackson State on Friday and Southern Illinois on Saturday.

“Arkansas State has a very good volleyball program, and our two programs have a great rapport with each other, so it’s great that we are able to play them every year; whether that’s home or away,” said Chatman. “I think that each year they host a very solid tournament, just like we do, and for us to finish the non-conference portion somewhat close to home is a really good thing and will allow us to feel confidence as we enter the conference regular season.”

The Sugar Bears, who finished last season in second-place in the Southland Conference standings before making a run to their third SLC Tournament title, won’t have the opportunity to ease into league play, as they travel to defending regular-season champion Stephen F. Austin to open conference action on Saturday, Sept. 22. Central Arkansas will then host Southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday, Sept. 25, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Thursday, Sept. 27, and Houston Baptist on Saturday, Sept. 29.

October opens with Central Arkansas on the road, as the Sugar Bears head to Northwestern State (Thursday, Oct. 4), Southeastern Louisiana (Saturday, Oct. 6) and Incarnate Word (Saturday, Oct. 13), before another three-match week sees them host the Ladyjacks (Tuesday, Oct. 16), Nicholls (Thursday, Oct. 18), and New Orleans (Saturday, Oct. 20). After a short road trip to Lamar (Thursday, Oct. 25) and McNeese (Saturday, Oct. 27), UCA will close out its home slate during the first week of November, welcoming 2017 SLC Championship Match foe Abilene Christian on Thursday, Nov. 1, and Sam Houston State on Saturday, Nov. 3. Central Arkansas will close the regular season on the road, heading to New Orleans (Thursday, Nov. 8) and Nicholls (Saturday, Nov. 10).

“Like last year, I think the conference is going to be very good, top to bottom,” said Chatman. “We have some very solid teams, and well-coached teams, that are going to be prepared night in and night out. Last year, a lot of matches were coin flips, and with what happened last year, the players that are returning, and the talented coaches around the league, I have no doubt that the league is going to continue to produce more of the same quality and caliber of teams that we did last year. We’re definitely looking forward to a fun and exciting race.”

That race will see eight teams extend their season by earning a spot in the Southland Conference Tournament, which will take place in Natchitoches, La., on the campus of Northwestern State, beginning on Friday, Nov. 16, and wrapping up on Sunday, Nov. 18.