(Photo courtesy of Tennessee athletics) University of Tennessee volleyball player Erica Treiber, a former USA standout, spikes the ball during match play this year for the Volunteers, who finished 26-6, ranked 19th in the country and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in the four-year Tennessee starter's career.

First NCAA tourney appearance makes perfect send-off for All-American Treiber

KNOX COUNTY

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Erica Treiber went into the final season of her All-American University of Tennessee volleyball career with an objective in mind that was bigger to her than any individual accolade.

Down to her final opportunity, the former Unionville-Sebewaing Area multi-sport standout wanted to experience what playing in the Division I NCAA tournament felt like, and she made sure her wish came true with a senior performance that left an indelible mark on the Volunteers’ volleyball record book.

(Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics) Erica Treiber (7) is joined by her family for senior night at her final Tennessee volleyball home match against Ole Miss on Nov. 24. From left to right are her sister Mackenzie Treiber, her sister Carly Valentine, her mother Libby Treiber, Erica Treiber, her father Paul Treiber and her sister Jessica Cox.

Ranked 22nd by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) leading into its 15th overall NCAA tournament appearance and first since 2012, Tennessee went on to account for the highlight of Treiber’s career as a four-year starter with a thrilling 3-2 opening-round win over Colorado State on Nov. 30 in Pullman, Washington.

Said Treiber of earning a spot among the 64 teams picked for NCAA Tournament play, “It was awesome; so fun … we always knew we had the capability.

“Taking that next step and being nationally ranked, it was fun seeing all our hard work pay off, something special to feel and to experience,” the 6-foot, 1-inch middle blocker continued. “Getting into that top 64 was our goal. The feeling of making the (NCAA) tournament was very exciting.”

The second-seeded Vols, regular season runners-up in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) with a final league mark of 16-2, faced a 2-0 deficit after 28-26 and 25-20 losses. They found a way to overcome the adversity, running off consecutive wins by the scores of 25-18, 25-21, 15-12.

“Winning a game was a big goal of ours,” said Treiber, adding, “to not just make it there, but to advance.”

Tennessee couldn’t duplicate the performance, however, losing 30-28, 25-18, 19-25, 25-13 to regional host Washington State in the round of 32 on Dec. 1. UT had a final record of 26-6 and moved up to No. 19 in the final AVCA rankings.

In the two biggest matches of her career, Treiber showed the consistency she’s become known for, recording double-digit kills in both NCAA Tournament matches. She had 12 kills against Colorado State and 13 against Washington State while adding six blocks and nine digs against Colorado State and five blocks and five digs against Washington State.

Treiber said the Vols were unranked through each of her first three years, making the accomplishment feel even sweeter by arriving right on time for her to experience.

“With it being my senior year, I wanted to leave everything I had out on the court. We had a mentality this year of wanting to win and go hard,” said Treiber.

(Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics) Tennessee volleyball’s Erica Treiber gets in her ready stance during match play for the Volunteers this year.

Entering her final year of competition having already earned AVCA All-America honorable mention status after her sophomore season, Treiber was voted lead team captain as a senior. It was a position she was well suited for, with two previous years of experience as one of the team’s captains.

While those accomplishments are among the most memorable of her career, they are but a few on what’s a very long list.

The last honor bestowed upon Treiber carried the most weight, with her being named to the VolleyballMag.com All-America Second Team. She’s just the third player in program history to earn VolleyballMag first- or second-team honors, and the first since 2011.

Her captaincy and All-American status show two different sides of who she is, said Treiber.

“We have our (program’s) All-American pictures up in our gym that we practice in every day. I don’t feel like I belong in that group with some of the stats and records some of those girls have put up,” she said. “It’s definitely an honor to be categorized as an All-American at the collegiate level as well as being a team captain. Being a leader comes naturally to me due to both my family and the community that I was raised in. Both accomplishments are the result of a lot of hard work.”

Another highlight for Treiber was becoming a two-time AVCA All-American, garnering honorable mention this year just as she did in 2016. She was also named to the 2018 AVCA All-Southeast Region Team, the ’18 All-SEC Team, and received several player of the week honors.

Treiber was named the Sports Imports/AVCA Division I National Player of the Week on Nov. 27 after garnering dual SEC Player of the Week and SEC Defensive Player of the Week recognition on Nov. 26.

Those determinations were made in the wake of Treiber leading the Vols to a 3-0 win over 13th-ranked Florida on Nov. 21 and to a 3-1 win over Ole Miss on Nov. 24. Tennessee finished 4-4 against ranked opponents this year, producing the most such wins by an SEC team and becoming the only team with a .500 or better winning percentage against top-25 teams.

The sweep of the Gators was UT’s first since 1988, and the senior day win over the Rebels saw Treiber achieve her first career double-double with 16 kills and 11 blocks. 

Final season stats put Treiber leading her team in blocks (138), service points (485.5) and aces (46). Her ace count is the school’s best effort since 2002, and she was second on the team in kills (363).

Treiber completed her career second in program history in hitting percentage (.358), third in blocks per set (1.15), fourth in total blocks (507) and 16th in kills (1,097). 

(Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics) Erica Treiber (7) was one of four Tennessee seniors honored for senior night against Ole Miss on Nov. 24. The players are joined by members of the Tennessee coaching staff.

She was one of just two players in the nation this year to rank in the top five in their conference in hitting percentage, blocks per set and aces per set, finishing third in hitting percentage (.392) and fifth in both blocks per set (1.10) and aces per set (0.37). Treiber was also one of just three players in the country to produce more than 1,000 career kills while hitting .350 or better.

She showed great promise from the moment she arrived on campus, starting all 33 UT matches as a freshman and finishing with 247 kills, a team-best .354 hitting percentage and a team-best 131 blocks. Those contributions earned her a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team.

After going 21-12 in 2015, 17-14 in 2016 and 12-15 in 2017, UT made a coaching change that paid immediate dividends. 

Filling the coaching vacancy was Eve Rackham, who proved to be a good fit in leading the Vols to their biggest single-season turnaround in program history with a 14-win increase over 2017’s final efforts and an 11-win increase in SEC play that came with an eight-place jump in the league standings.

Rackham was proud to work with Treiber, even if only for a year. The player-coach relationship was beneficial to both parties.

“Treiber, what do you say? She does everything,” Rackham told Rhiannon Potkey in a Nov. 23 feature article found at utsports.com. “She works her butt off every day, and is never too proud to do anything. She’s such a great role model for our younger players because she comes here every day wanting to learn and is willing to do whatever you ask.”

Rackham went on to add that Treiber is unique at her middle blocker position in that she could be relied on as an offensive contributor far more than middle blockers typically are.

“We give her more attention than most middles. Her attack numbers are way above every other middle in the conference,” said Rackham. “She’s just so smart with the ball and her arm is so quick. She finds the floor in so many annoying ways if you’re playing against her.”

The new coaching staff put a lot of effort into really getting to know their players before diving into Xs and Os.

“A coaching change is always hard, but the new coaching staff wanted to get to know us as people before getting to know us as athletes,” said Treiber. “That meant a lot to the team, and we knew from the start they were here to bring Tennessee volleyball back to what it should be.

(Photo courtesy of Tennesse Athletics) Erica Treiber (7) celebrates along with her Tennessee teammates during SEC play with Kentucky this volleyball season.

“I’m excited to see where the future goes under that coaching staff,” she added. “With the culture that we’ve built and the hard work that we’ve put in, I hope they can go even farther in the tournament next year.”

Treiber is majoring in kinesiology and pre-optometry at Tennessee, and is set up for graduation in May. She said from there she’ll look to further her prospective medical career as an eye doctor by attending Ferris State.

“I’ve had a great time here and really grew a lot as a person,” said Treiber. “I’m really proud of myself for finishing out the four years.”

Treiber showed herself to be a leader in and around her Knoxville community much the same way her leadership was evident on a volleyball court.

She was recently named a finalist for the 2018 Senior CLASS (Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School), which encourages student-athletes to make a positive impact as leaders in their community. Treiber also became a part of the SEC Community Service Team in 2017, and has been her team’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee representative for three years.

In total, Treiber’s contributed more than 140 hours of community service during her Tennessee schooling tenure.

At USA High School, Treiber helped lead the Patriots’ volleyball program to a combined record of 162-31-12 over her four years. Her teams reached the Class C state semifinals twice, in 2012 and ’14, and she earned top-tier high-school honors that included receiving Under Armour All-American honorable mention recognition to go with being named a Miss Volleyball finalist as a senior and finishing her USA career as a two-time all-stater.

Around the same time that Treiber was completing her college career, she was also following her high school alma mater’s first Division 3 state finals appearance with the highest levels of both optimism and excitement.

Bronson defeated the Patriots 3-0 in claiming its fourth straight state championship, but the USA loss had no effect on the pride Treiber beamed with in regards to her former school making history.

“I was very happy and proud of that team,” said Treiber. “Being a USA Patriot, I always want them to excel.

“(USA volleyball coach) Teresa Rose was very deserving of leading her team to the finals,” she added. “She’s a great person, and I also know some of the other girls on the team. I want the best for them at all times.”

The feeling is mutual, said Rose.

“The USA family is extremely proud of Erica. I think the whole Thumb (area) is also proud of her,” she said. “For Erica to end her senior year with a trip to the NCAA tournament I’m sure was a great accomplishment for her and her team.

“It’s actually pretty fitting that she would have such a great season and we would also be making history. She was such a huge part of our program,” continued Rose. “Erica actually taped a message with some words of encouragement for our players while we were in Battle Creek (site of the state semifinals and finals), and I think that was awesome for her to take time out of her busy schedule to think of us. I know the girls were very appreciative, but that’s just the kind of person that Erica is.”

Adam Smith is sports editor at The Advertiser and can be reached at sports@tcadvertiser.com.

Career honors (courtesy of Tennessee athletics)

• 2018 VolleyballMag.com All-American (Second Team)

• 2018 AVCA All-American (Honorable Mention)

• 2018 AVCA All-Southeast Region Team

• 2018 All-SEC Team

• Imports/AVCA Division I National Player of the Week (11/27/18)

• Player of the Week (11/26/18)

• Defensive Player of the Week (11/26/18)

• Rocky Top Invitational All-Tournament Team

• Tennessee Classic MVP

• Tennessee Classic All-Tournament Team

• SEC Academic Honor Roll

• SEC Community Service Team

• 2016 AVCA All-American (Honorable Mention)

• 2016 AVCA All-Southeast Region

• SEC Academic Honor Roll

• SEC All-Freshman Team

• SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll