UCA volleyball team eyes start of 2017 season

Central Arkansas volleyball head coach Jeni Jones Chatman recently announced her indoor squad’s 2017 schedule. The Sugar Bears, who will be looking for their eighth consecutive Southland Conference Tournament appearance, will split their 28 matches evenly, with 14 set to be played in Conway.

The Sugar Bears, who have made the postseason every year since becoming eligible in 2010, will open the season on the road, heading to Buffalo, N.Y., for the weekend of Aug. 25-26. UCA will take to the court for the first time against Canisius at noon EST on Friday, Aug. 25, before facing off against Hampton at 4 p.m. EST that same afternoon. A 12:30 p.m. EST tilt against host Buffalo on Saturday, Aug. 26, will close out the weekend.

“Buffalo has a very strong program, and we’re excited to open our season there,” said Chatman. “And it will be as great of a homecoming as we can make it for our two Canadians, Megan Nash and Savanah Allen. We’re looking to go in and start the season right.”

Central Arkansas will return home for the second weekend of the season, hosting a trio of regional opponents in the UCA Invitational at the Farris Center on the weekend of Aug. 31, through Sept. 2. The Sugar Bears will open their home slate by hosting in-state for Little Rock at 7 p.m. on Thursday, before facing off with the Memphis Tigers at 7 p.m. on Friday. A 1:30 match against UT-Martin on Saturday will close out the weekend.

UCA will remain at home for the third weekend of the season, once against hosting at the Farris Center. The Sugar Bears will open play in the Sugar Bear Classic against another in-state opponent, taking on Arkansas State at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 7. UCA will square off against Southern at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, before wrapping up the weekend against Central Florida at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.

“It’s great that we can get two weekends in a row, at home, but it’s not just two weekends at home for us,” said Chatman of the Sugar Bears’ home tournament’s.

“It’s two weekends of great volleyball. The first tournament is going to be a really strong tournament. We’re really excited to be able to show UCA and Conway what our team looks like. And to follow that up with the teams we’ve got coming in the second weekend, plus getting to miss less classes, that’s just awesome.”

The Sugar Bears will close out non-conference play in Tulsa on the weekend of Sept. 15-16, taking part in the ORU Golden Eagle Classic. UCA will open play against Wyoming at 5 p.m. on the 15th, before facing host Oral Roberts at 11 a.m. on the 16th. A match against Tulsa at 6 p.m. on the 16th will close the tournament.

“We’re going to end the non-conference schedule with a really strong tournament,” said Chatman. “We played ORU and Tulsa last year, and they’re great RPI teams. And to get the chance to play Wyoming, who’s in another conference and will also bring a nice RPI, and get to do it all fairly close to home, is really exciting.”

Central Arkansas will open Southland Conference play with a pair of road matches. The Sugar Bears will head to Nacogdoches, Texas, on Sept. 21 to take on Stephen F. Austin at 6:30 p.m., before moving on to Beaumont, Texas, for a 1 p.m. match at Lamar on Sept. 23.

Central Arkansas will make its Prince Center debut on Sept. 26, opening a four match home stand against Houston Baptist at 6 p.m.. The Sugar Bears will host Northwestern State at noon on Sept. 30, before facing defending SLC Champion Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at 6 p.m. on Oct. 5. A match against Incarnate Word at noon Oct. 7, will end the Sugar Bears’ stay in Conway.

UCA will spend the next four matches on the road, heading to Thibodaux, La., to face off with Nicholls at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 12, and Lake Charles, La., to battle McNeese at 12:30 p.m. on the 14th. A 7 p.m. match at Southeastern Louisiana on Oct. 19 and a noon tilt at New Orleans on the 21st will end the road swing.

The Sugar Bears will get a brief stay at home, hosting Abilene Christian at 6 p.m. on Oct. 26, and Sam Houston State at noon on Oct. 28, before heading to Natchitoches, La., to take on Northwestern State at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 31. A 6 p.m. match at Houston Baptist on Nov. 2, will wrap up Central Arkansas’ regular season road schedule.

UCA will close out the 2017 regular season with a pair of matches at home, welcoming McNeese to the Prince Center at 6 p.m. on Nov. 9, before hosting Nicholls at noon on Nov. 11.

The 2017 Southland Conference Tournament will take place in Corpus Christi, Texas, with the first round set to begin on Friday, November 17, and the Championship Match set for Sunday, Nov. 19.

“I would imagine that the conference is going to continue to improve,” said Chatman. “Last year, as compared to our first year, I think the conference took a big step up, which is great. There wasn’t too much movement in our league this year, so I would imagine that it’s going to continue moving up.”

“We’ve been so fortunate the our administration has worked the last two years to get the conference tournament here in Conway,” said Chatman.

“That speaks volumes to our current players, to our alumni that volleyball is still a priority here, and it speaks volumes to our recruits. It will obviously be different this year, because for the past two seasons, we’ve been at home for the conference tournament. But just like when we hosted, when you get there the season starts over for everybody. Seed doesn’t matter, rank doesn’t matter, you just have to be the best team in the conference over those three days. That will certainly be our goal, just like it will be for every other team in the conference. But this is a special group that we’re going to have this year. Based on the way we finished last year and the spring that we’ve had, I’m very excited about what we’re going to be able to accomplish this year.”