HUNTSVILLE, Texas – When two of the top three teams in the conference standings meet, you expect to see an epic showdown. Thursday night’s clash between Northwestern State and Sam Houston was just that.
For just the third time this season the Lady Demons (18-9, 10-3) were pushed to five sets and for the first time this season came up short 3-2 (20-25, 25-21, 25-23, 22-25, 11-15), dropping their second match to the Bearkats this year.
“We had an off night in some ways and really played great in other ways,” coach Sean Kiracofe said. “It was an inconsistent night for us offensively, but good defenses have a way of creating that. When we played composed, but still aggressive, we dictated the match.”
In each of the first two sets Sam Houston sprinted to a 6-1 lead, and in each of the first two sets, the Lady Demons closed the gap quickly. NSU worked their way back to the lead before either team would reach 15 in either of the sets.
The differences between the two sets came late and set the stage for a tremendous night of volleyball.
Sam Houston made a 5-2 run late in the first set that provided them the chance to trade points down the stretch to take the opening frame 25-20. Not wanting to go down 2-0 on the road, the Lady Demons rallied down 21-17 in the second.
A kill from Hannah Brister sparked an 8-0 run allowing Alexis Warren and Skylar Beash to place the final two points on back-to-back attempts that evened the match at one each.
The long run to take the second shifted the momentum entirely to the Lady Demons side of the net, which was evident in the third set.
A pair of 5-0 runs that included three kills each from Brister and Kourtney Seaton, another from Warren, and an ace from Charli Fouts created a nearly insurmountable 21-15 NSU lead. Sam Houston challenged with a 7-2 run that made the third interesting but Darria Williams closed it out on her 8th kill of the night.
The Lady Demons had an opportunity to close out the match late in the fourth, using a 4-0 run where Brister and Addison McDermott combined for two kills and two blocks to take a 21-20 lead. That chance dissipated quickly thanks to three straight Sam kills and one block that pushed them to the 25-22 set win to even the match once again.
That momentum carried over into the critical fifth where the Bearkats jumped out quickly again, taking a 4-1 lead. Brister picked up a critical kill that made it a 7-5 frame, but the next point went to the home team to hold the three-point lead at the turn.
A 4-0 run moments later proved too much for the Lady Demons to overcome, despite clutch kills from Brister and Seaton and a block from Brister and Besch that staved off three match points in a row.
“We had the opportunity to close out the match in the fourth on their home court,” Kiracofe said. “I’m confident we’ll finish them off when we see them again in the tournament.”
Brister set a new NSU record with 87 total attempts in the match, recording 18 kills and becoming the eighth player in program history to reach 1,000 kills for her career. Williams and Lohmiller each set new career-highs in kills (13) and digs (31) respectively.
The Lady Demons take on Houston Baptist in another critical match in terms of tournament seeding with just three matches remaining on the year.
Photo Credit: Gary Hardaman