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Young Team Cutting Its Teeth in RRAC Opener

FORT WORTH, Texas  --  With frontline players Brittani Toole (Whitehouse, Tx / Whitehouse HS), Krystal Cisneros (El Paso, Tx / Del Valle HS) and Kassy Cox (Lufkin, Tx / Lufkin HS) reaching double-digits in kills, the Southwestern Assemblies of God University womens volleyball team battled to wire before dropping a 3-1 decision to Texas Wesleyan University on Tuesday night.

It was the league opener in the Red River Athletic Conference for both teams, who will likely be competing for another top four finish this season.

Only six points separated the rivals in the best-of-five match played before a crowd of 275 in TWU's Sid Richardson Center. The Rams, now 6-4 overall, won the first two games with scores of 25-21 and 25-23. Southwestern rebounded with a 25-23 triumph in the third set. SAGU had a chance to tie the match at 2-2 when they held a 24-23 lead in the fourth set. But two errors cost the squad and enabled Wesleyan to rally for a 27-25 victory to take the win.

Game three was tied 13 times with five lead changes. The fourth saw 10 ties and the lead change hands five times.

Neither team had a high attacking percentage, which reveals the defensive intensity when top-flight teams go tooth-and-nail. The Rams hit for .161 while the Lions were at .128. In a contest this competitive, that slight edge was the difference.

"Our ladies contended to the very end," said SAGU Head Coach Hansford Moore. "And we will benefit from this type of effort. In the end, Wesleyan put the ball away better than we did."

Texas Wesleyan was led by Katherine Rosenbush, a 6-foot freshman from Hutto, Texas, led both teams in kills. She converted 44 attempts into 18 kills with only five hitting errors for a .295 percentage on Tuesday. Her 4.5 kills per set on the night would be good enough to lead the RRAC. Teammate Kristen Venhuizen had the game's second best totals. The 5'11 senior added 14 kills for a .182 attack percentage.

The Rams' Evoni Darling was the catalyst for the host's offense. The Setter bagged 53 assists, tied for her career fourth-best ever. She is averaging 9.3 assists this season, almost as good as her 10.7 freshman showing.

The Fab Five?  Make it the Super Six

In regards to freshmen, the youth movement remains alive and well on the Purple Pride. Six freshmen have been challenging for court-time and a place in the primary rotation this season. Proving your wares in practice shows a player's true mettle, and backing it up against conference competition the toughest place to reveal your true colors.

Tuesday was Exhibit A in that category. Toole, the 5'11 senior All-American, led the Lions with 14 kills. The Middle Hitter added 3 solo blocks and earned a double-double as she was credited with 13 digs on the defensive side. Her sidekick was the 5-foot-11 junior, Cisneros.

Cisneros: At Her Best

"She is playing as well as she ever has," praised Moore. "In fact, this is probably Krystal's best offensively and defensively, simultaneously." Cisneros was second in kills with 10, had 5 solo rejections and hit a team high .304 in the match. She had 23 attempts at kills, making 10 of them count, while hitting only three errors.

The junior led the RRAC in blocks as a freshman. Against the Rams she was fourth on the Lions in kill attempts, but second in actually delivering them.

She contributed 23 touches; the number of times she deflects or makes contact with the ball entering SAGU territory, excluding blocks. In other words, Cisneros was extremely active and took something off of nearly two dozen shots in her area.

After a slow start, Cox has gradually seen her playing time increase. Tuesday she had her most kill attempts, with 31, and she responded with 10 kills. The 6-footer has reached double-figs in kills in four of the last six matches. Caitlyn Hudson (Mansfield, Tx / Legacy HS) added seven kills.

Briggs: Mitigating Factor

Senior tri-captain Jordan Briggs (Maypearl, Tx / Maypearl HS), SAGU's steadying buttress, has been called the "glue that holds us together," according to Coach Moore. The Libero came up with 26 digs and 14 covers.

Her defensive presence is a major mitigating factor for the Lady Lions. Jordan's 4.53 digs per set is the highest in the RRAC and tops her previous best, 3.55 as a freshman. She has totalled 17 or more in four of the team's eight matches.

Setting the Table

Hudson accounted for 16 digs, while Taylor Calverley (Mansfield, Tx / Arlington Grace Prep) made 14, Toole 13 and Laura Espinoza (Duncanville, Tx / Duncanville HS) 11.

Of the frosh on the Lady Lions roster, Calverley continues to operate as the hub in the wheel. The Setter is #3 in the RRAC in assists with her 8.3 average. Against the Lady Rams she bumped up 32 sets and continues to make progress.

Among those who fired up a service ace, three players did it twice; Beka Dollar (Weatherford, Tx / Brock HS), J.Briggs and Espinoza.

Austin College Classic Tournament, September 10-11

Southwestern will be one of 10 colleges participating in this weekend's 15th Annual Austin College Classic in Sherman, Texas. Matches will be played on two courts in the Hughey and Sid Richardson gymnasiums. Sherman is 87 miles north of Waxahachie and just 12 from the Red River that separates Texas and Oklahoma.

Ed Garza's Austin College (28-12 last year) team is the host, and the Kangaroos are 5-0 to date. Garza has had the Roos regularly ranked nationally as one of the top NCAA Division III teams. SAGU defeated them in 2009 in a five-set thriller.

The Lady Lions will tangle with a pair of Texas teams on Friday, starting with McMurry University at 2:00pm. They'll go up against Hardin Simmons University in the evening at 6pm. The following day, Team Lioness meets the University of Texas at Tyler at 4 o'clock. SAGU clashes with Austin College for their fourth match in 28 hours at 6pm.

Smug Mug Shots

Gina Godding provides numerous photographs throughout the athletic calendar, many of them on this site. To view or purchase them, visit her website at GoddingGallery.smugmug.com.

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