It’s not easy starting an athletic program from scratch, but Jane Sargent was more than ready to take on the challenge when she was hired as the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith’s first volleyball coach in the spring of 1998.
During the past 19 seasons, the Fort Smith, Ark., native and former Chaffin Junior High coach has turned a fledgling program into a regional power and national contender on the junior college level and now NCAA Division II level.
Sargent, who has complied a 612-135 career record, has guided the Lady Lions, to five consecutive Heartland Conference regular-season championships, five Heartland Conference Tournament championships, five appearances in the NCAA Division II Tournament, two South Central Region Tournament championships, two Elite Eight appearances and one Final Four appearance during their first six seasons of NCAA Division II competition.
This past season Sargent led the Lady Lions to a 24-6 record and another undefeated Heartland Conference season. UAFS won the Heartland Conference for the fifth consecutive season and won the Heartland Conference Tournament for the third year in a row. The Lady Lions led the nation in digs per set for the second time in three years and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for a third consecutive season.
In 2015 Sargent guided the Lady Lions to a 29-4 overall record and a 16-0 mark in the Heartland Conference. UAFS won its fourth consecutive Heartland Conference regular season title, won the conference tournament, won the South Central Region Tournament title for the second consecutive season and advanced to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season.
In 2014 -- UAFS' fourth as an active NCAA Division II member -- the Lady Lions were Heartland Conference regular-season champions for the third-consecutive season, won the Heartland Conference Tournament, won the South Central Region Tournament for the first time and advanced to the Final Four for the first time. UAFS also finished the season with its highest ranking ever as a NCAA Division II program -- 13th -- after being unranked to start the season.
Prior to the Lady Lions joining the NCAA Division II ranks, Sargent was ranked among the top 25 in career wins among active NJCAA coaches, many of whom had been coaching twice and even three times as long.
Under Sargent’s watch, the Lady Lions have never had a losing season and won a school-record 54 matches in 2002, when they made the first of six appearances in the NJCAA national tournament. That 2002 team opened the season with 48 consecutive wins – a school record that still stands today.
The Lady Lions, who have averaged 33 wins per season, won eight Bi-State Conference regular-season championships and finished as conference runner-up three times. They played in the NJCAA Region II tournament championship match each of their 11 seasons, winning six championships.
Sargent’s teams were ranked in the NJCAA Division I top 20 the past seven seasons, and the 2008 team has the distinction of being the highest ranked Region II team in the university’s history, peaking at No. 3 in the final regular-season poll.
The Lady Lions, who finished the season ranked in the top 10 each of their last four seasons of junior college competition, finished a program-best national runner-up in the 2008 national tournament and seventh place in the 2005 national tournament and won the consolation championship (ninth place) in the 2006 national tournament.
On their way to a national runner-up finish in 2008, the Lady Lions posted a 44-4 record and won the Bi-State Conference regular season title and the NJCAA Region II tournament championship.
Sargent was been honored as the Region II Coach of the Year six times and coached four NJCAA First Team All-Americans, two AVCA First Team All-Americans, and two AVCA Second Team All-Americans.