Lady Demons fall in thriller with SLU

NATCHITOHCES – It was everything one could want and more in a volleyball match Thursday night for Northwestern State. Four action-packed, back-and-forth sets chock-full of incredible defense, powerful kills and devastating blocks. For head coach Sean Kiracofe however, the most exciting part was the progress his young team showed to have such a match play out.

“They competed, were in each set, created leads, came back from deficits and kept fighting,” Kiracofe said. “There was a ton of progress for us. Going back to the third set against Corpus and the progress we saw there, then three close sets with Lamar but we kind of faded at the end of those, that didn’t happen tonight.”

The Lady Demons (2-4, 0-4) battled through each point only to see a pair of late leads slip through their hands allowing Southeastern Louisiana (4-3, 2-2) to sneak away with the 3-1 (25-22, 29-27, 22-25, 25-21) victory.

There were only a few instances throughout the match where one team built more than a four-point lead. A 7-1 run midway through the first set put the Lady Demons ahead 12-7, a lead they would hold over the next few points thanks to three kills from Audrey Quesnel and an ace from Addison McDermott.

The Lady Lions quickly closed the gap and took the lead away with an 11-2 stretch, bolstered by three NSU attack errors. Prior to that stretch the Lady Demons were errorless on their first 29 swings to start the match.

The 3-0 NSU run that followed a late timeout was not enough to halt the SLU momentum, taking the next three points and the first set 25-22.

The second and third sets were filled with more of the same with the teams staying within three points of each other the entire time.

The Lady Demons dropped the second set in extra points 29-27, staving off four set-point attempts from SLU but two of the night’s many top performers began to shine for the Lady Demons during the set.

After just five digs in the first set, libero Haley Hoang totaled 22 in both the second and third sets, making head-shaking saves keeping the ball off the ground and into positions for senior Darria Williams who pounded home 10 kills on 19 errorless swings during that same time.

“It was a fantastic hitting performance for her,” Kiracofe said of Williams who finished the night with a career-best 14 kills. “And it was a really smart one as well because she didn’t get put in the best situation every time. She got kills of touches, swings with high hands, some tips and was just smart when she didn’t have anything available to her.”

Hoang ended the night with 28 digs, also a career best, leading an NSU defensive backline that total 96 in the match with Autumn Gentry (22), Bryce Potter (12) and McDermott (17) all setting career bests in digs as well.

“Getting almost 30 digs in four sets is just unheard of, it was a huge performance,” Kiracofe said of his sophomore libero. “There was a conscious effort by Southeastern to stay away from Haley in the fourth because she was digging absolutely everything. So, Addison, Bryce, Autumn and Ragan really stepped up and showed up defensively.”

Hoang’s defensive and Williams’ offensive leadership carried the Lady Demons to a third set win, punctuated by one of the 13 total blocks of the match from Williams and Quesnel.

The turning point in the final set came when SLU strung together a 6-1 run that made it an 18-13 game. The five-point edge was just enough to keep the Lady Demons at arm’s length the rest of the way.

NSU pulled within a point on two different occasions on a kill from Breanna Burrell and the final block of the night from Gentry and Quesnel, but the match ended with three straight SLU points, the final two coming on NSU errors.

“If we have more of that experience on the floor, like a Hannah Brister or Charli Fouts, it’s just a little bit different in those close situations,” Kiracofe said. “As good as everyone played there were youthful mistakes out there and those things catch up to you. But it’s still about the progress and those mistakes were fewer and farther between. We were still in positions to win sets and win the match.”

Seven different career bests were either matched or set on the night with Gentry falling just one kill shy of her second triple-double of the season.