Last year at about this time I wrote a piece on this blog that wasn't too well-received by some folks in the Heartland Conference.
It was basically decrying the fact that the conference earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II South Central Region volleyball tournament when none of its teams had done anything to earn the spot. Now, I realize that the spot is guaranteed by the NCAA and there's nothing that can be done about that. ACU has certainly been the beneficiary of some automatic bids and at-large post-season bids.
However, the bid last year was partly to blame for a very qualified ACU volleyball team missing the regional tournament.
Well don't look now, but the Wildcats are back in the same spot, despite a team that entered this weekend's Lone Star Conference Post-Season Tournament riding a 15-match winning streak. That streak hit 16 straight in Thursday's quarterfinal win over Texas A&M-Kingsville and could hit 17 today with a semifinal victory over Angelo State.
ACU, though, is ranked No. 8 in this week's regional poll, which was released Thursday. And with no Heartland Conference team anywhere to be found in the top 10 (strong league, huh?) the Wildcats are again on the brink of watching another great season slide down the drain.
So now the Wildcats know they probably have to win the league championship and earn the conference's automatic bid to keep their season alive. Unless they get a lot of help this weekend in the MIAA.
ACU's reward for what would be a 29-5 record going into a possible conference championship match? A meeting with West Texas A&M for the seconde straight season with the knowledge that it probably has to beat the Lady Buffs on their home floor just to continue their season.
Have I mentioned that WT has a 42-match home-court winning streak going into tonight's semifinal match? Or that they haven't lost a match to a conference team since 2005? In fact, the last LSC team to beat WT -- and they beat them on their home floor -- was the ACU Wildcats, who took a 3-2 win over the Lady Buffs back on Nov. 3, 2005.
If the Wildcats get past the Rambelles this evening, will it be impossible for ACU to beat the Lady Buffs on Saturday? No; not with the way the Wildcats have played of late.
The thing that head coach Kellen Mock and assistant coach Lindsey Campbell can't figure out, however, is how they're in this situation in the first place. They've got a team that could have 29 wins going into Saturday, and yet they're on the outside looking in while a team that they've beaten twice this season -- Pittsburg State -- sits comfortably at No. 5 in the region? ACU has beaten the Gorillas in Abilene and Pittsburg, Kan.
The Wildcats don't have a bad loss on their schedule. On the contrary, four of their five losses this season have been to teams that were nationally ranked at the time of the match.
So here the Wildcats sit, hoping they can beat one of the best teams in the country -- on their home floor -- in the conference championship match so that they KNOW for sure that their season will continue. Otherwise another extraordinary season will come to a premature end.