COLLEGE NOTEBOOK: Lady Wranglers in the top 25 for the first time this season

It didn’t take the Odessa College volleyball team long to crack the top 25 rankings for the first time this season.

That should come as no surprise as the Lady Wranglers moved to 8-0 for the season after last week’s home tournament in which the team had another perfect showing.

“I can’t complain,” Odessa College head coach Dayana Acevedo-Rios said during this week’s press conference at the OC Sports Center. “I think the girls keep building up and getting better every day, every step. They show up to practice. It’s very exciting to see the motivation and the hunger and how they can come out and be successful.”

Odessa College is one of seven schools in the NJCAA rankings that remain undefeated.

Florida Southwestern State College holds the No. 1 spot at 8-0 while fellow Western Junior College Athletic Conference foe New Mexico Military Institute is also at 8-0 with the No. 4 spot.

Despite the team’s spot in the NJCAA rankings, the Lady Wranglers know it’s still early in the season.

“I’m excited,” Acevedo-Rios said. “I like it. But I don’t think it’s enough. I think this team has a lot to show and a lot to build on. I feel like this is the beginning and if we keep working every day, we’ll be up there pretty soon.”

Redshirt freshman middle hitter Liliana Mechura echoed her coach’s thoughts about the rankings.

“I think that’s a testament to how much hard work we’ve put in during the preseason and the nature of how good this team is when we play together,” Mechura said. “Obviously, it’s not enough. We want to be No. 1 and win a national title. We have to keep working.”

>> UTAH BOUND: The Lady Wranglers will get a new set of challenges this week at the Crystal Invitational in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Two of the Lady Wranglers’ four opponents are also ranked in the NJCAA standings.

Odessa College will begin the tournament against College of Southern Idaho at 8 p.m. Thursday.

The Lady Wranglers will return to the court the following morning against No. 14 Salt Lake Community College at 11 a.m. Friday before facing Casper College at 3 p.m. later that day.

Odessa College will wrap things up with a game at noon Saturday against fifth-ranked and undefeated Northeastern Junior College.

“I think that we have been facing really tough competition,” Acevedo-Rios said. “We’ve been facing different teams and different play styles so it’s good to see how we can adapt and manage different playing styles. That’s going to help us in conference because we have a tough conference. That’s why we did a schedule this hard.”

>> Short preparation: While the first two tournaments that Odessa College has been to this season started on a Friday, the Lady Wranglers will be playing one day earlier this week in Utah.

The team has had to adjust to a shortened-week.

“I think this week has been kind of weird because we only had three days to train,” Acevedo-Rios said. “We have been trying to tweak some things that we’ve been struggling with like blocking and serve-receives, because we’ve missed a lot of serves. It has been very focus-driven on what we need to do. The girls are ready. I’m excited to see what this weekend will be like.”

>> OC Invite: While last week’s home tournament did see the Lady Wranglers go undefeated, there were a few things to clean up as the team struggled to close out a few sets.

“We just have to show up every day and every game and stay humble,” Acevedo-Rios said. “It doesn’t matter what we think or what the other team has shown. We have to take every game and take care of our side and not worry about the expectation about what the other team is going to do and just take care of our side and compete.”

In Saturday’s 3-1 win over Snow College, the Lady Wranglers dropped the first set for the first time this season, 25-20 before bouncing back.

“I think they’re a really resilient team, especially against Snow College,” Acevedo-Rios said. “It was interesting to see how our girls responded after dropping the first set. The girls have fight and they know how to take care of one point at a time. That’s the best thing they can do. They’re a good, fighting team.”

Despite some of the struggles, the players felt comfortable with their performances which, in addition to the victory over Snow College, included wins over Hill College (in three sets), Indian Hills Community (3-1) and Panola College (3-0).

“We started off very strong this weekend,” Mechura said. “Our serve-receive was very strong. That was our main factor. Both setters were able to come in and mix up the offense. .. .They were very good at reading both the people on our side of the court and the people on their side of the court.”