Despite losing Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Division II Tournament in Pittsburgh, the Tarleton TexAnns volleyball team enjoyed the program's best season in history.
The sixth-seeded TexAnns advanced to the first Elite Eight in the program's history, before falling to third-seeded Western Washington, 3-0.
“Prior to the start of the season, I was excited about the potential we had and eager to establish chemistry with several new players entering the program. As a coaching staff, we believed we recruited well and had a very productive spring with our returners, so I thought we could make another run at the LSC (Lone Star Conference) title," head coach Mary Schindler said. "As a team we created goals and maintained the focus to just getting better every day and that is something we have done.”
The TexAnns (32-5) not only won the LSC with a 19-1 league record, they made history by then capturing the South Central Region in front of their hometown fans at Wisdom Gym. It was the first time they hosted a regional tournament.
In addition, the TexAnns set a school record for victories and longest winning streak (24 straight), along with reaching the NCAA Tournament for a fifth straight year.
“I can’t describe it, except to say that the fans were engaged and invested in every point, and you could feel it," Schindler said of the regional championship. "The most incredible experience I’ve been a part of in sports.”
Four-year letter-winner and senior Adrianna Knutson (NCAA South Central Region All-Tournament selection, second team All-LSC) said, "Everyone on the team knew this wasn't going to be our last game, and it sure as heck wasn't going to be someone else's championship."
And Schindler has been a part of many great moments, starting when she played for Tarleton from 1999-2002. She became the head coach in 2005, was LSC Coach of the Year in 2008 (another first in school history), and compiled a record of 295-159 in her tenure.
Her 2015 team was the first to win a regular-season conference championship. In 2016 the TexAnns ended the season ranked No. 25 for their first ever season-ending national ranking. In 2017 they became the first Tarleton team to win both the regular-season and conference tournament titles in the same season.
But none have done what this year's team accomplished, advancing to the final weekend of the national tournament.
“I have been at Tarleton for so long, it is home. I came to Stephenville in 1999 and never left. The opportunity to coach and represent the university I played for has been a dream come true," Schindler said. "I have grown up here, just as the program has grown.
"I started with a lot of passion and determination and now I have passion, determination, but also experience and knowledge from my growth.
"I certainly bleed purple and take a lot of pride in the volleyball program and every program at Tarleton. Sharing this experience with all of my former players, colleagues, and my family has been one of the greatest gifts."
Schindler said this season was possible because of the ones who came before. This included two previous trips to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2014 and 2016.
“I believe when you coach, it is always about a process and forward progress. I have a team of young adults who make me proud on and off the court. Each one of them contributes to our success and helps propel us forward daily," she said. "I have the team that a coach dreams of, one that holds themselves accountable and pushes to be better. I have a team that focuses on the positive and looks for opportunities, and who understands the importance of building relationships. This team is different, and so is the season.”
Four-year letter winner and senior Hannah McManus, the LSC Defensive Player of the Year, said, "Our team has so much chemistry. I've never been on a team like this, and I truly believe that's why we've gotten this far. We're a talented team, but we want to do everything for each other to be successful."
Though already successful under Schindler, the program turned a corner in 2014, when Hailey Roberts arrived on campus. She had the most prolific run of any player in the program's history, the most decorated student-athlete in Tarleton history. Roberts is still with the program as a graduate assistant coach.
Led by Roberts, that 2014 team won the LSC Tournament and had a strong showing in the NCAA Tournament. Starting with that season the team was 139-33 over the past five seasons.
“I had a complete team and they all committed to the program and what we were trying to accomplish. I have been blessed to coach some of the best players and people, and that team was no different," Schindler said. "It was the first team that played in and won a regional match. I have so much love and gratitude for each of them.”
Also since that season the TexAnns are 72-7 at home over the past handful of years. Overall, they are 141-38 at home under Schindler.
“Tarleton is special and the atmosphere has been electric in our gym. I have so much pride in defending our court, the court we sweat on every day, the court we push each other on, the court we earn our confidence on every day,” she said.
That support can be seen throughout the community and campus with regularity, Schindler said.
“The community has been so supportive and involved. Our fan base consists of students, professors, community members, young athletes, and the list goes on," she said. "I am proud of my team for their efforts to connect with the community, and Stephenville has certainly reciprocated and made them feel the love and support.
"Walking across campus I have gotten high-fives, hugs, congrats, and just so much support. It is incredible to have so many people cheering for you and taking ownership of their Tarleton volleyball team.”