Lady Lions Impressive at RRAC Tournament
Toole, Hudson were Cowtown Powers
FORT WORTH, Texas -- The progress made by head coach Hank Moore's women's volleyball team this fall added yet another impressive chapter over the weekend.
Southwestern Assemblies of God University qualified for another berth in the Red River Athletic Conference in a rebuilding season. On Friday at the Sid Richardson Arena, the #4 seeded Lady Lions rallied to stun the host Texas Wesleyan University, 3-2.
It was the manner in which they won that made the win so rewarding. "This team battles so well," said Coach Moore. "They find ways to win, and they continue to get better."
Summary of a Five-Set Thriller
It didn't look that way at the start. The Lady Rams were red-hot in winning the opening game of the tournament by a 25-12 count in which they hit a sizzling .485. SAGU rebounded, not with offense, but with their trademark - defense. They overcame a 21-17 deficit to win, 26-24, while limiting the Wesleyan Women to an .088 attacking percentage. After two games they were down 31-16 in kills, yet deadlocked 1-1.
Team Lioness broke a 17-17 tie in the third set to post a 25-21 triumph, as they continued to limit the Rams at the net. TWU hit just .059 while the Lions swung .106 arms. In the two wins they forced 20 hitting errors by the Rams while making just 11.
It was all-Wesleyan in the fourth game. A talented team that was also meshing in new players and a new scheme, TWU battled the inconsistencies that usually come with young players. They rediscovered their hammers in a must-win fourth game. The Rams jumped to a 9-2 lead and zoomed ahead 17-4 before prevailing 25-10. They hit .302 compared to the Lady Lions' .024.
During their wins in games one and four the Rams smashed 32 kills while committing only three errors. The match was tied, 2-2, even though TWU had a 95-72 lead in points and held 60-34 advantage in kills.
Game Five: White-Knuckles
The deciding fifth game, played to 15, was a classic. There were four lead changes and six ties during a nerve-wracking game to decide whose season would continue. SAGU went up 4-0 before the Rams reeled off seven unanswered points. The purple-cladded Pride regained the lead at 8-7 and appeared in control at 13-11. A net serve almost sunk the 'Cats, as the error sparked a Rams rally to take a 14-13 lead. Coach Moore called a time-out to discuss strategy for stopping the TWU run as well as mounting a counter by the Lady Lions.
As they had throughout the afternoon match, senior Brittani Toole (Whitehouse, Tx / Whitehouse HS) and Caitlyn Hudson (Mansfield, Tx / Legacy HS) were huge in the clutch.
Taylor Calverley (Mansfield, Tx / Grace Prep) set-up Hudson at the net and the sophomore unleashed a crosscourt dagger to knot the score. Jordan Briggs (Maypearl, Tx / Maypearl HS) went to the backline to serve what would become the winning points. Her first became a point on an attack error by the Rams, putting SAGU in position to win.
TWU set up a spike in a bid for the equalizing point. That attempt went begging when Toole and Hudson joined to form a double-team block. It sent the ball back to where it came from and the Lions into celebration frenzy!
Blue Collars Working til the 5 O'Clock Whistle
Moore-coached teams are known for their proletarian ways, donning their hard hats, gloves, jeans, boots and lunch pails.
On Friday they had three solo blocks and 12 assisted blocks (Toole had 2 and 4) and shined the floor with 102 digs. Briggs was credited with 31 of those digs, with Laura Espinoza (Duncanville, Tx / Duncanville HS) making 24 and Hudson another 17. They contested every kill and scrapped with a never-say-die spirit.
SAGU was outhit .157 to .070 in the match, and were on the wrong end of a 67-38 number in kills. But they coaxed 33 errors and executed well when games were on the line. That was the difference.
Individually, SAGU was led by Toole's 15 kills and .256 hitting percentage. Hudson powered 11 shots and Krystal Cisneros (El Paso, Tx / Del Valle HS) contributed six. Southwestern set up Hudson for 57 tries, 14 more attempts than Toole. Briggs and Calverley split the team's four aces, with the latter making 31 assists.
The Lions also got great contributions from Tina Brown (Seguin, Tx / Lifegate Christian), who one of five in double-figures in digs. Kassy Cox (Lufkin, Tx / Lufkin HS) added two kills and two blocks. Beka Dollar (Weatherford, Tx / Brock HS) was inserted at a critical time in games for her ability to handle hot serves, which she did well. She also had a kill and an assist.
The win improved the Lady Lions' overall record to 18-16. They won their season series with Wesleyan, 2-1.
Wesleyan had a season-best performance by their #5 attacker, Lynsay Buell. She racked up 21 kills and hit .366. Evoni Darling, who was outstanding as she set up teammates with 55 assists, continually fed Buell (pronounced like fuel), who had 41 attempts. TWU had four players with 38 or more attacks. Marissa Rangel had a match high 40 digs.
Semi-Final Match: SAGU vs. UT-Brownsville
Southwestern advanced to the semi-finals to face the University of Texas at Brownsville. The Scorpions, ranked #2 nationally in the most-recent NAIA Coaches Poll, are an imposing squad. They boast ten international players and have a 34-1 record. Their only defeat came at the hands of #1 Lee University (Tenn, 35-0 record), a team that recruited UTB's best players from last year's 34-3 team.
SAGU played quite well but couldn't match the talent of Brownsville, who swept the best-of-five match. It was not without a set to remember.
Southwestern engaged in an epic battle to prove their metal, and it revealed a solid core of blue-grade steel.
Tied at 8-8, the Lady Lions surged ahead of the Stingers by hitting .242 in the game.
Hudson and Toole found a seam in the UTB defense they attacked with success. Calverley set Hudson for a kill and a 9-8 lead. Cisneros stroked an unassisted smash and a 10-8 advantage which was extended when she was joined by Calverley to stuff Erica Chimak. A Cisneros swing following a Calvarley helper gave Team Purp a 12-9 upper hand.
An attacking error by the Scorpions increased their margin to 13-9. When Toole unloaded a kill through a block attempt, the bench and Lions fans were on their feet at 14-10. Toole and Calverley soared for a combo block of Chimak, and Cox ripped a blast, prompting a UTB timeout as the SAGU lead was 16-10. The margin remained at six (17-11) when the national power began a comeback.
Toole, whose consistent play over her four year career is as impressive as her constant demeanor, delivered a kill and an 18-14 lead. With Brown inspiring her troops with edifying energy, the Lions battled like warriors. Cisneros crushed a shot (19-15), and, after a service error by RRAC Player of the Year, Danica Markovic (Dah-NEETZ-uh MARK-O-vich), Brown assisted a thunderous blast by Hudson (21-18). Hudson exploded into a Calverley to widen the lead to 22-18, and Texas' Southernmost College called another timeout.
UTB responded with a fury, with two aces, two kills and an attack error by the Lions to reclaim the lead at 23-22. Southwestern's passing game, effective throughout the match, led to a Calverley assist that Hudson detonated to level the scoreboard at 23's.
The sweating Scorpions, who lost just three sets all season within the RRAC (two by Wiley, one by TWU), put the set away when Ana Guerra and Markovic, from Serbia, their top two killers, added solo shots. Guerra's hitting percentage for the year is a white-hot .424, with Markovich at .282. The latter, though, has 126 more kills than Guerra (GAIR-uh).
Besides the 25-23 triumph, UTB won the other sets 25-13 and 25-10.
Toole paced the Lions with seven kills, while Hudson added six, Cisneros four, Cox three and Brown two. Cox had a solo block, while Calverley, Toole and Cisneros made three, two and one assist blocks. Calverley totaled 18 assists.
In defensive digs, five players had six or more, led by Briggs' 11. Taylor was credited with seven, while Espinoza, Brown and Hudson each registered six. Toole and Brown both served up a hot tater (ace).
UTB, the #8 team in the country in aces, finished with nine, but also made eight service errors. SAGU, #45 in the category, had a pair and just one mistake.
Markovic was easily the player of the match as she finished with 20 kills in just three games. She had 30 attacks and only one error, good for a .633 night.
UTB Takes Out Wiley in the Finals
UTB went on to win the Red River championship, sweeping #3 seed Wiley College in the finals, 3-0; 25-17, 25-19, 25-15. They are the lone league rep in the NAIA national tournament. Wiley defeated the #2 seed, Our Lady of the Lake University (13-5), in the semi's, 3-0; 25-21, 25-16, 28-26. The Wildcats finished their season at 21-9.
On Deck for SAGU: NCCAA Regionals
Next up for the SAGU Lady Lions (18-17) is a berth in the National Christian College Athletic Association's Central Regional. The two day event will be held in Oklahoma City next weekend. The Lions are paired against Dallas Baptist University (16-18). The Lady Patriots (NCAA Division II) lost in the finals of the Heartland Conference tournament in Austin on Saturday.
SAGU is guaranteed two matches. Should they win the Central, the 'Cats would again advance to the NCCAA Nationals in Orlando the first weekend in December. Last year coach Moore's squad received their highest seeding ever, #3, in an eight-team finals field. SAGU finished 28-12.
A preview of the Central Regionals will appear on Thursday.
Photos from Fort Worth will be uploaded Tuesday.