UTSA ready to play giant-killer

UTSA’s first NCAA tournament appearance under coach Laura Neugebauer-Groff will be special for more reasons than one.

Most important, it marks a milestone achievement in the program’s long, slow climb from an 8-22 finish in Neugebauer-Groff’s first season.

Of secondary interest, Neugebauer-Groff will be pitting her Roadrunners against mighty Texas, the school she led to four straight NCAA berths in the mid-1980s.

Though Neugebauer-Groff hasn’t mentioned the connection to her team — “She’s done a great job making this about us instead of her,” libero Kelsey Jewasko said — the subject brought a huge smile to her face.

Or more specifically, what it might feel like to stun the heavily favored Longhorns in Friday’s match at Gregory Gymnasium.

“To beat my alma mater, the No. 8 team in the country, it would be the whipped cream, the cherry and whatever else you want to put on it,” she said. “It would be a dream come true.”

To bring that dream to fruition, the Roadrunners will need any number of breaks and developments, not least of which is a quality outing from Jewasko.

An Express-News All-Area hitter from East Central, Jewasko has blossomed into an elite defensive player since switching positions at UTSA.

She was recently named the Southland Conference’s Libero of the Year for the second time, becoming only the second player in league history to win the award twice. In the process, she’s fallen in love with her new position.

“I like to lie on the floor and dive and have that energy,” said Jewasko, a junior. “It doesn’t seem as glamorous (as a big kill), but I like that. It’s disguised.”

Only 5-foot-7, Jewasko might have stayed at hitter, or played for a bigger school, if she’d been a couple of inches taller. But Neugebauer-Groff, who has struggled to lure local talent to UTSA, was only too happy to take advantage of the genetic shortcoming.

“It’s a big stepping-stone for our program,” she said. “So many kids don’t even want to come visit. It’s frustrating. She’s been a great gift for us, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of her career.”

Help her team pull off an upset, and Jewasko’s career at UTSA might end up equivalent to her coach’s at UT.

“If we win, I don’t know that I’d even leave the building,” Neugebauer-Groff said. “I’d just lie there in amazement. On paper, we shouldn’t have a chance. But I don’t believe that.”

More Information

NCAA volleyball tournament

What: First & second round

When: Friday-Saturday

Where: Gregory Gym, Austin

Friday's schedule: UCLA vs. American U., 4:30 p.m.; UTSA vs. Texas, 6:30 p.m.

Saturday's schedule: Friday's winners, 6:30 p.m.