When Oakland left the conference this past spring and the Summit League reconfigured its volleyball schedule, UNO coach Rose Shires was left with a two-week hole with no matches.
She filled it.
And then some.
The Mavericks head to Norman, Okla., this weekend for the three-day Nike Invitational where they'll face four teams that have posted a combined record of 29-11 this season after going 99-35 last year.
Three of the Mavs' four opponents have players who have already been recognized as their league's player of the week — including host Oklahoma's senior middle blocker Sallie McLaurin, who has won all three Big 12 weekly awards and is the reigning national player of the week.
Oklahoma (fifth), Miami (third), Long Island (first) and Tulsa (second) were all picked to finish high in their respective conferences.
“These are some top opponents, but we feel like it's a great opportunity and really it's a no-lose situation,” Shires said. “We want to compete at a high level and we want to work on our game — we'll have to play fast and be mentally in tune to the match.
“If we win a set, or a match, it'll be an amazing, upbeat thing for us. As long as we compete hard and learn, I think we win (long-term) this weekend.”
Since her team was already scheduled to travel to road tournaments in Houston and Louisiana, Shires was looking for something a little closer to home for the open weekend on the schedule. After booking the Oklahoma tournament, she also scheduled a nonconference match Tuesday at Drake — finalizing that date in early August.
“I didn't want to have two weeks without competition,” she said. “Sometimes you kind of lose focus when that happens.”
The youthful UNO team established some momentum last weekend, winning 3 of 4 in a tournament while losing only to host Southeastern Louisiana, to improve to 4-6. Shires said it lifted the team's spirits.
|MAVERICKS TODAY ON FACEBOOK|
|Join the conversation on the Mavericks Today Facebook page.|
“In sports, you're not always measured by effort and progress by the outside world, and as athletes you're measuring yourselves on wins and losses, too,” Shires said. “We can preach all the time about how we're making progress and hitting benchmarks, but it's very nice to get wins — it definitely boosts your team morale.”
The Mavs play 10-1 Oklahoma at 7 p.m. Thursday and 5-2 Miami at noon Friday. On Saturday, the Mavs play 6-4 LIU at 12:30 p.m. and 8-4 Tulsa at 4:30.
Tulsa, picked second in Conference USA, took Oklahoma of the Big 12 to five sets before losing Tuesday.
“I'd say they're all top-75 level teams,” Shires said. “It's probably the toughest weekend we've had since moving to Division I (in 2011).”
Oklahoma's McLaurin is fifth in the country in hitting percentage (.490).
Miami's Ryan Shaffer leads the ACC in digs per set (5.1).
LIU's Annika Foit leads the Northeast Conference in kills (3.9) and hitting percentage (.389).
And Tulsa, sixth in the country with 18.1 digs per set, features Kellie Culbertson, who is sixth nationally with 0.6 service aces per set.
Last weekend UNO earned its first five-set win in almost two years, and then posted back-to-back sweeps for the first time in nearly three years. The first sweep — of Stetson — was UNO's first in nearly a year.
All-tournament selections Kelley Wollak and Kimberly Bailey lead the Mavs in kills (Wollak, 2.7) and digs (Bailey, 3.6) per set, respectively. Megan Schmale leads both the Mavs and the Summit League with 1.3 blocks per set.
“This really sets us up well the weekend before we start Summit League play,” Shires said.