Lady coogs tear it up, bring pride back to UH sports
In 1990 the University of Houston football team
finished the season 10-1 and had a No. 10 ranking to end the season.
This marked the end of the Run-and-Shoot era at Houston and also
marked the decline of support for UH athletics, for in Texas football
That is probably why most UH students don't know that the
Cougar volleyball team is the most successful UH athletic program
in the '90s. The 1994 season was no exception. In fact, it was the
best season ever for the Cougars.
Led by senior All-American hitter Lilly Denoon-Chester, the
Cougars broke records, both team and individual, left and right as
they won the Southwest Conference regular season title and the
SWC Tournament to secure a bid in the NCAA Volleyball Championships. From there they advanced to the Elite Eight before finally
bringing the history-making season to an end with a 3-0 loss to
UCLA in Florida.
In this season of triumphs,
the Cougars got several monkeys
off their backs. Texas, which had
never lost two matches to a SWC
opponent or the SWC, was swept by
Houston by scores of 3-0 in Austin
and 3-1 in Hofheinz Pavilion. This
led the way for Houston to lay claim
to the regular season title, the first
team other than Texas to ever do so,
with a conference record of 9-1.
There was talk of a
rematch in the SWC Tournament,
held at Rice's Autry Court, but Texas
A&M saw to that as the Aggies
defeated the Longhorns in the semifinal round, ensuring that Texas
would not win the SWC Tourney for
the first time in SWC history.
The matchup against the
Aggies was actually preferred by
the Houston spikers because the
only league loss for the Cougars came when they travelled to College
Station and dropped the match 1-3. Not only did this loss end the
chances for a sweep through the SWC, it also saw the Cougars' win
streak come to a close after 17 games.
But the team went on to a 26-7 record and advanced further
in the NCAAs than ever before. Houston was even awarded a first
round bye and hosted the second round in a rematch of a 1993 match
against Clemson. Only this time the Cougars came out on top with
a 3-0 victory on Dec. 3. Five days later the Cougars flew to Florida,
sight of the South regional finals, and defeated the Gators on their
home court 3-1.
The next night however saw the great season come to an
end as the Cougars were defeated 0-3 by the Bruins, who won the
South and went on to the championship game, the Final Four was
held in Austin at Texas, only to lose to Stanford.
The Cougars started, the season with a preview of the things
that were to come as they upset No. 4 Ohio State 3-2 in the first
match of the season. This sweet victory came in the Buckeye Classic,
the home tourney of the Buckeyes.
The Cougars played sporadic over the next week and
were 3-3 after the first six matches. That was when the win-
streak came to fruition.
For 17 matches and more than one month later, the
streak went from Sept. 17 to Nov. 6, the Cougars would not feel
the sting of defeat. During that stretch the Cougars beat ranked
Texas (twice) and Georgia. The combined score of those three
matches was 9-1.
Denoon-Chester was the key to the Cougars' success.
She set the all-time UH record for career kills and finished the
season with numerous honors including: SWC Player of the Year,
SWC All-Tournament Player and second team All-American
She finished her illustrious season with 551 kills, a .341
hitting percentage, 282 digs and 13 solo blocks. The kills, hitting
percentage and blocks led the team while the digs was second on
the squad. She was even third in
assists with 31.
Of course, no successful team
is dependent on only one person. Denoon-Chester was supported by one other senior, hitter Carla Maul, and a trio of
second year students. The
sophomore sensations were hitters Emily Leffers, Mari-Claude
Tourillon and setter Sami Saw
Maul led the Cougars in digs
with 363. Her best game of the
season came when it counted
the most, the SWC Championship game against Texas A&M.
Tourillon, a transfer from
Canada, was second on the team
in kills (329), block solos (25)
and hitting percentage (.300).
Leffers, a 6-2 force from
Florida, was second in kills (310) third in digs (248) and second
in assists (87).
Assists of course is what Sawyer plans her day around.
She racked up 1,531 of the Cougars' 1,695. Opponents only had
1,531 all season against Houston. She also emerged as a leader
for several seasons to come.
The team only graduated three players, Denoon-Chester,
Maul and defensive specialist Heidi Sticksel. Of course a loss tne
size of Denoon-Chester will be hard to replace.
But head coach Bill Walton said all season long that tne
media, opponents and crowd, who are amazed by the dominant
kills Denoon-Chester makes coming off the slide, tend to overlooK
the defensive dominance of the team that one Daily Cougar writer
coined "The Great Wall of Houston."
Next season the Cougars will try to do what they nave
been doing every year before: try to better themselves. And it tn
first half of the '90s are any indicator of what is to come, tne
Cougar volleyball team will be the best sports program on the Ufl
campus. Daniel Scholl