Friday Night Volleyball, 5-Set Thriller
Fast Starts, Strong Finishes, SAGU Rallies to Win
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- This weekend is locally known for the great crowds gathered at the Texas Motorplex in nearby Ennis. Top Fuel dragsters roaring at 300 miles per hour, while Funny Cars, Pro Stock cars and motorcycles are all the rave at the National Hot Rod Associations' O'Reilly Fall Nationals. ESPN televises the event.
In an unrelated sport with similarities was Friday night's college volleyball match between Southwestern Assemblies of God University and Houston's University of St. Thomas. Each game saw the team with the fastest start roar to win, with the match going the distance. Southwestern rallied from a 2-1 set deficit to take the checkered flag, 3-2, in what was perhaps their best effort of the young season.
Lady Lions Race to the Finish Line, Win 3 Games to 2
The Lady Lions dropped Game One, 25-22, as well as Game Three, 25-21. They claimed a Game Two triumph with a 25-17 victory, before finishing with must wins when facing elimination. SAGU rolled in Game Four, 25-14, then rode the momentum to finish off the Lady Celts, 15-10, in Game Five. Total Points between the clubs who split their two meetings last season; SAGU 108, UST 91.
St. Thomas, 23-11 last year when they qualified for the 32-team NAIA National Tournament, began Friday with an 11-3 mark. SAGU, 28-12 in 2009, split with the Celts (pronounced Kelts) last October. Team Lioness improved their overall record to 7-8 with the win heading into Saturday's 11:00am clash with Huston-Tillotson University.
Earning it with Defense
The squad did it on Friday with a heavy dose of defense and elbow grease, a common trait of Head Coach Hansford "Hank" Moore's teams. Thwarting opponents (and St. Thomas) with fundamental positioning, they covered the floor. When the opposition attacked, firing would-be points into gaps and open spaces, SAGU's penchant for doing the dirty work stymied their scoring bids.
They did it by diving for shots, hustling to make saves, contesting kills at the net with blocks and deflections and refusing to give up on plays. The results can neutralize great hitters. Against the Celts, they also did an outstanding job fending off some blistering serves and shots. Laura Espinoza (Duncanville, Tx / Duncanville HS), Jordan Briggs (Maypearl, Tx / Maypearl HS) and Tina Brown (Seguin, Tx / Lifegate Christian) were daring and dauntless.
The lionhearted trio stood in the line of fire on a number of spikes that one might expect a matador's side-step, yielding to an onrushing cannonball. Instead, Espinoza and the loquacious tandem of Briggs and Brown, were fearless and peerless. And they were not alone. Their energy and example inspired others, and SAGU had as many diggers as a 49er gold rush.
Coach Moore Doffs His Cap in Approval
"Defense wins sets, matches, and yes...championships," said a gratified Coach Moore after the match ended. "Our kids played awesome defense!"
Very true. That back row could be called the "Grind Line" for their blue collar effort. Briggs had 23 digs, Espinoza 16 and Brown a dozen.
Moore spoke of the play of Caitlyn Hudson (Mansfield, Tx / Legacy HS) and Taylor Calverley (Mansfield, Tx / Arlington Grace Prep) , who had 24 and 16 digs respectively.
"Our defense was just awesome," he summarized. "But we also hit the ball extremely well."
Like the Famous Ford Stock Car
Hudson, a regular starter, sat for a longer than normal amount of time on Friday. But when she re-entered the game in the final two games, she played like a house a fire. Better yet, like the NASCAR champion of the 1950's, Ford's "Fabulous Hudson Hornet," this Hudson put the pedal to the metal.
The sophomore finished with 19 kills on 39 swings with a lone hitting error, for a sizzling .462 hitting percentage. It was the sophomore's career best in kills, topping the 16 she had in 2009 against Texas Wesleyan. And she is showing of signs of coming on. Last week she hit .833 by making 10 kills in only 12 attempts in a sweep of Dallas Christian College.
Spike Night: Four Lady Lions in Double Figures
Krystal Cisneros (El Paso, Tx / Del Valle HS) had 15 kills, most on thundering blasts, and hit .323 hitting %. She has now reached double-figures in 5-of-the-last-7 matches.
Brittani Toole (Whitehouse, Tx / Whitehouse HS) had 16 kills on 43 attempts, committing just two hitting errors for a .341 hitting percentage. Add to the balanced arsenal was the return of freshman Kassy Cox (Lufkin, Tx / Lufkin HS), who had 10 kills, and the frontline was firing on all cylinders.
"If we can keep getting four hitters in double digits," Moore added, "we will win a lot of matches." For sure, few teams can overcome an opponent with that kind of equivalence. Overall, the Lady Lions hit a season high 67 kills and a very respectable .273 against St. Thomas.
The 5-set win helped offset four previous 5-set defeats, giving them two victories in matches that have been extended to the maximum fifth game.
Calverley, the freshman setter, continues to sharpen her game. On Friday she accounted for 53 assists, topping her personal best of 48 (McMurry University). Combined with her 16 digs, she had a double-double, joining Hudson's breakout performance (19 kills, 24 digs).
"This was a huge win for our team," Moore commented, emphasizing h-u-g-e. "I'm very proud of how hard we played tonight! This is an awesome group of young ladies."
Hudson, Spreading the Praise
As for Hudson, whose broken foot at the start of camp set her back and seemed to take an edge off, she's getting into the kind of groove that would make her a force to be reckoned with in the conference. As imposing as her showing was against the Celts, she had only praise for her teammates.
"I feel like our defense stepped it up in the second set," she said. "Jordan and Laura frustrated Saint Thomas' hitters over and over. And our back row was giving Taylor the passes she needed to spread the offense across the front line."
"Our hitters were doing an excellent job of putting the ball away," Hudson continued. "Overall, our communication and determination is what kept us in the game."
In each of the games, the team that got off to a quick start went on to win. The first team to 10 points won each time. St. Thomas grabbed a fast 4-0 lead before going up 10-6. The Lady Lions rallied behind kills by Cisneros and Cox, and blocks by Toole and Cisneros. SAGU tied the score at 12 when a tip by Cisneros handcuffed libero Brittany Downs. Trailing 17-13, Southwestern stormed back to take the lead when Briggs served four aces in a row during a 6-0 run. Cisneros and Toole had kills for a 19-17 advantage.
The Purple Pride went on top, 21-18, when Toole assisted a bazooka shot by Hudson that went through a double-team block attempt. The Celts called a timeout and came from behind to steal the first game. Mallory Wendel's kill on a set by Downs, and big plays at the net by Kirsten Kubicek sparked them to a 25-22 win.
An ace by Hudson and four serving points from Brown lifted the Lions to an 8-1 lead. Cisneros was hot early, with a shot down the line, and two big kills. Cox added three kills on assists from Calverley and Toole for a 12-4 bulge on the scoreboard. Team Purp broke the game open, 16-6, when Espinoza tacked on four points from the back line, including an ace. Toole drilled a hit to the right, far corner, as the senior enjoyed another effective game.
Hudson made two kills, Cisneros jacked a frozen rope down the sideline and Brown finished a long, crowd-pleasing volley for a 22-10 lead. Casey Mulryan fueled a solid Celtics rally with an ace before Cisneros closed the scoring in a 25-17 triumph.
With Mulryan, Kubicek and Catherine Loth (pronounced Lott) providing the firepower up front, UST broke open a 10-8 lead, keyed by four straight hitting errors by Southwestern. Down 20-11, Hudson came in and come on! She made a solo stuff at the net, then pounded a Calverley helper to the far corner, and smashed a set by Espinoza as SAGU drew to within 20-15.
After an ace by Kubicek had the Lions on the cusp of defeat, 24-15, Toole's service game sparked a late rally. Hudson's attack sent a shot alongside the sideline as SAGU came to within three, before St. Thomas regrouped to claim a see-saw 25-21 victory.
Hudson's three early kills, and two apiece by Cox and Cisneros, along with a combined block by Brown and Cisneros in the corner, gave SAGU a 12-4 start in a game they had to win to avoid elimination. Calverley surprised the Celtics when she redirected a pass with a deftly placed shot into the middle of the court for a 16-6 margin, and the 'Cats were on a roll.
Espinoza went to the back line to begin what would become 21-8 lead. Hudson and Toole had kills, before an inadvertant whistle by the R2 official, David Myers, sparked some tension on the St. Thomas bench. He assumed a hit by the Lady Lions, which went high and up the sideline, beyond the net, would not be played. But Brown was hustling there in attempt to keep the ball in play on the second hit. His whistle gave the point to the Celts, before the two officials met to review the call. The R1 referee, Chris Bernard, overruled, calling a replay.
Evidently, the "ball didn't lie," as Hudson's kill on the ensuing play kept the Lions in charge at 21-8. St. Thomas fought back behind the talented Kubicek and the setting game of Sarah Curiel-Thompson. But Toole returned to the attack zone, and whacked a pair of Calverley sets to finish the game, 25-14.
The Lady Lions took control early, 4-2, on power strokes by Toole and Hudson and two errors on Courtney Johnson, who played well otherwise. Kubicek and a four-hit violation by SAGU drew the Celts to within 6-5. That's when SAGU took charge.
Hudson sent a missle into and through a double-team on a set by Calverley, who then found an open corner to place a tip on the next play. Cox missed a wicked blast to the far, deep corner, and the Celts were within 9-6.
Cisneros found that same right corner with a bomb, and Brown served up an ace for an 11-6 advantage, prompting a UST timeout.
Mulryan rejected a laser by Cisneros to give the black-cladded visitors hope, at 11-8. Cox then found the corner with a hard smash and the margin for error was slim for St. Thomas. Still, Mulryan (pronounced Mull RYAN) and Johnson added points on a kill and the latter's cashing in on a SAGU overpass and the game was still within reach at 12-10.
Espinoza, who added an artfully effective jump serve this off-season, stepped up to put the game and match away. Toole jacked a Calverley offering, then tipped another pass to bring up match point. From there, the headliner - Hudson, polished off the win with a crosscourt spike of another Calverley helper, and SAG had a well-earned, hard-fought 15-10 set, to take the match.