Any worries that The Master’s University women’s volleyball team would lose steam or focus with three days off for Thanksgiving – and two weeks between competitions for that matter – were abated Saturday when the Mustangs gathered for practice before traveling to NAIA nationals.
“The energy was electric,” said Allan Vince, whose next win will be his 100th in five seasons as head coach at Master’s. “We’re in a good place.”
Geographically speaking, the Mustangs are in Sioux City, Iowa, where they arrived Sunday ahead of Tuesday’s opening match at nationals.
Master’s (29-5) advanced to the 32-team tournament by winning the first Golden State Athletic Conference tournament title in program history on Nov. 10. The Mustangs also won the conference’s regular season title as part of one of the most striking turnarounds in school history.
In 2017, Master’s won all of 11 matches and nearly missed qualifying for the inaugural GSAC tournament on its home floor. Fast forward to 2018, and the Mustangs will take on No. 22 Corban University from Oregon at 3 p.m. PST Tuesday on the national stage.
The Mustangs, who earned the tournament’s No. 12 seed, will play in a pool that also includes Reinhardt University from Georgia and No. 5 Dordt College (Iowa).
Dordt finished as the national runner-up last season. But the Mustangs remain confident entering their first trip to nationals since 2013.
The Mustangs will play each of the three teams, one per day, from Tuesday through Thursday. Then the top two teams in the pool will advance to bracket play starting Friday.
“We feel really good,” said junior Jane Cisar. “I think we have a really good chance at being in the top two.”
As for Sunday, the Mustangs settled into their hotel. Surveyed a snow-dusted landscape and ate at Texas Roadhouse.
Monday, Master’s was expected to get its bearings inside the Tyson Events Center.
“This isn’t a gym, it’s a large sports arena,” Vince said. “So it will be important to understand what it’s going to feel like inside, what our surroundings are like. Because of its size, is it a vacuum with no sound, where you can’t hear anything?”
Either way, the Mustangs hope to make plenty of noise.
Men’s basketball ready for earlier conference start
It hasn’t been perfect, or always pretty. But The Master’s University men’s basketball team will enter GSAC play this week riding a six-game winning streak.
One challenge facing the defending GSAC regular season and tournament champions, who were picked to finish first again in this year’s preseason coaches’ poll, is an early start.
Because the GSAC added Ottawa University Arizona – TMU’s opponent Thursday night in Surprise, Arizona – and Life Pacific in San Dimas to its ranks before this season, conference play will consist of 18 games instead of 14 and will start more than a month earlier than a year ago.
“You’d like to be more ready,” said Master’s coach Kelvin Starr. “But this weekend was helpful. I feel better than I did a week ago. Any time you go on the road in conference, especially to Arizona right off the bat, is a tough task.”
After Ottawa, the Mustangs will travel to Phoenix on Saturday to play Arizona Christian. Then it’s on to San Diego Christian the following week.
“It’s a totally different challenge,” Starr said of playing conference games.
Still, the Mustangs faced plenty of adversity during non-conference play. Master’s, ranked No. 1 in the NAIA Division 1 Coaches’ Preseason Poll, opened the year with a loss to No. 2 LSU Alexandria before bouncing back with a win over No. 7 LSU Shreveport the following day.
Last week, the Mustangs trailed by three at halftime at the University of Antelope Valley before rallying for a gritty 74-66 win. The victory represented TMU’s best defensive performance of the season, and the team built on the effort in two wins over the weekend.
Over its last three games, Master’s has held its opponents to an average of 70.6 points. A vast improvement over its first four games when it allowed an average of more than 84 points.
The key: TMU has done a better job of defending as a team – rotating, hedging screens on pick-and-rolls and communicating.
Freshman continues to shine
TMU women’s basketball will also open GSAC play at Ottawa on Thursday. And although the Mustangs aren’t entering the conference portion of their schedule on a particularly high note, there’s plenty of reason for optimism.
The Mustangs (4-2), who lost to the University of Antelope Valley at home on Saturday, beat No. 7 Carrol College during a season-opening swing through Montana and has experienced consistently balanced scoring. On Nov. 16 and 19, the Mustangs hit 100 points in back-to-back games for the first time since the 2007-2008 season. And freshman Stephanie Soares has lived up to her billing as a 6-foot-6 game changer.
The center is averaging 17 points, 9.8 rebounds and 5.6 blocks. She leads the nation in blocks.
For more information on The Master’s University Athletics, visit GoMustangs.com.