All The Way Back
Sept. 20, 2010
ARLINGTON, Tex. - Eight times on Saturday night, UT Arlington faced match-point against North Texas.
Eight times, the Mavs found a way to dig deep and keep their chances to win the UT Arlington Hilton Invitational championship alive at Texas Hall.
It finally all paid off in the fifth game when Bianca Sauls rattled off her third consecutive service point, giving the Mavericks a 16-14 victory in the decisive set.
That Sauls, the Tournament MVP, helped finish off the Mean Green was only fitting.
All tournament, Sauls did it all. In the last match alone, she finished one kill shy of a triple-double, posting nine kills, a career-high 27 digs, a career-high 10 assists, two aces and seven blocks.
The senior helped energize the team in the fourth game with her spectacular defensive play. Critical point after critical point, Sauls sprawled and dove for Mean Green attacks, helping to keep UTA's chances alive.
Sauls finished with a career-high 27 digs and also blocked seven shots. Yet the sequence of digs in the fourth set, setter Raegan Daniel said, helped ignite the team.
"She's very contagious to be around," said Daniel, who tied her career high of 49 assists. "She fights that much every day - practice, warm-up, whenever. It rubs off on everybody and it's really good for us."
While Sauls, along with Daniel and libero Alicia Shaffer anchored a defense that kept the Mavs in the match, Amanda Aguilera's outstanding play forced North Texas to make her the focus of its defense. That paid off in the fourth game because it allowed Daniel to put other hitters in strong positions.
"Whenever we were playing, I really didn't think about us being down and if we don't win this point we would lose," Sauls said. "I just focused on then and what we needed to do to win that point and to win that game and take it to five games. It never crossed our minds."
Finally, with the Mavs leading 33-32, Sauls ended the game with a kill.
Aguilera said by that time only adrenaline kept UT Arlington going.
"I think we were mentally and physically exhausted," Aguilera said. "Every time we'd cheer, we'd feel like we were about to pass out because we would cheer so loud and then get really dizzy. We were so invested in the game physically and emotionally. It was a relief to win but then we still had another game."
As the Mavericks celebrated their win in the marathon set, they knew there was still work to do.
"We knew if we came back and lost Game 5, it was all for nothing," Daniel said.
The rubber set did not offer much promise at the start. By the time the two teams switched sides in the middle of the game, North Texas staked itself to an 8-3 lead.
Exhausted physically and mentally, the Mavericks again faced an uphill battle.
"We just felt like we just worked so hard in the fourth game to be able to have the opportunity to get to a fifth game," Aguilera said. "We weren't going to do that to ourselves. We owed it to ourselves to pick it up in the fifth game."
Behind four kills from Frantz, the Mavs eventually caught the Mean Green and tied the score at 10. However, North Texas bounced back and had one more chance to win the match when it served with a 14-12 lead.
With the match on the line, Aguilera nailed another clutch kill, keeping the Mavs' chances alive.
That set the stage for Sauls.
North Texas still had match-point and wanted to make Sauls think about her serve.
"They called a timeout, I guess, to kind of mess with my head. I knew I wouldn't let it affect me," Sauls said. "When I sat down on the bench my teammates came to talk to me and I was just like, `It's just like any other serve. Don't stress this serve.'"
That attitude came as a refreshing serve for Sauls, who had occasionally struggled at times with confidence in her powerful jump serve.
Not Saturday. In the previous match, a 3-0 win over Prairie View A&M, Sauls served up a career-high four aces.
The Mavs won the first point and, all of a sudden, captured the momentum.
"Bianca has, in the past, struggled in her confidence with jump-serve, but she was just on all night," Daniel said. "Once she put that first set on, I just knew she was going to put a tough serve in and we could defend that serve because it would put them in a bad spot."
UT Arlington won the next two points and when North Texas hitter Shelley Morton's attack landed out of bounds, elation enveloped the team.
The comeback win certainly gave the Mavs the right to celebrate on the Texas Hall floor as long as they chose.
"Our fight in that game was like none ever this season," Sauls said. "We really pushed hard and I think this could change everything about how we think and how we feel about ourselves and know that we can come back when we're down 3-8 in the last set and win."
Given the chance to think back on the win, Daniel said it probably wasn't a match the Mavs were emotionally prepared to pull out earlier in the season.
"I don't think we could have won it a couple weekends ago," Daniel said. "Those two weekends taught us a lot and that helped us with putting it together in that final match. We didn't fight back like we wanted to in Wyoming, so all week we worked on fighting back and winning games. It all came together."
Aguilera said the win could change the entire direction of the Mavericks' season.
"We have never been behind, battled back and won the whole thing," Aguilera said. "We have been behind and then it got away, but this changed our whole momentum. Not only did it go five games, but our whole team played really well. We had so much intensity.
"I think it will get our momentum going into conference."
UT Arlington gets the opportunity to continue that momentum Thursday night when they play at UTSA.
Individual career highs: