The Sam Houston State volleyball team traveled to Fort Worth and claimed third place at the Texas Christian University Invitational this past weekend, handing head coach Brenda Gray her 500th career victory with a win over Alcorn State.
In her 23rd season at the helm of the Sam Houston State program, Gray stands at No. 28 on the all-time win list among active Division I coaches, ahead of Rhode Island’s Bob Schneck (470) and behind Notre Dame’s Debbie Brown (509) and Miami-Ohio’s Connie Condit (512).
“It’s amazing to get to this point,” Gray said. “I guess it feels just like 200 or 300. It makes me realize how long I’ve been doing this. The team was really awesome in that game, and it was a special moment. It was very special to do it with this group.”
Sam Houston State (4-6) opened tournament play Friday with a loss to tournament champion TCU (13-2), 30-19 30-22 30-7. Cynthia Yartosky led the attack against the Horned Frogs with a team-high seven kills, while middle blocker Sarah Hazlewood tallied six.
“Against TCU, I feel as though we did not play at all. I hate to say that, but we did not play good ball,” Gray said. “Excuse, excuse; everybody’s got one. But I do not have a reason for why we played the way we did.”
Saturday presented a match-up between Sam Houston State and Gonzaga (10-4) with the Bulldogs taking the win, 30-27 23-20 22-30 25-30. Yarotsky again led the team with 15 kills, followed by Katie Phillips with 10. Megan McNamara led the Bearkats in assists with 45.
“The game against Gonzaga was a very nice match. We had too many service errors, but the girls played good,” Gray said.
The Bearkats played their final match Saturday afternoon against Alcorn State (0-9) and defeated the Braves 30-12 30-15 30-9. Yarotsky and Lizzy Stuller took top kill honors for the Bearkats with nine each, followed by Phillips with seven. Kym Loving led the Bearkats in assists with 23.
“In the match against Alcorn State, everybody got to play, which is always good,” Gray said.
The match-up with TCU marks the third time this season the Bearkats have taken on a large Division I opponent, including games against The University of Mississippi and Baylor.
“The idea is to play good competition. I knew what we were up against when I made the schedule,” Gray said. “I believe in playing strong opposition rather than weak. I think most of those schools are better than the schools in our conference. I would rather us play stiffer competition so the girls know what they are up against.”
Sam Houston State middle blocker Anna Ferguson, who sustained a season-ending ACL injury in the Bearkats’ first tournament of the season, underwent surgery Friday and is recovering well, according to Gray. Ferguson, a 5’11” junior and one of four returning starters, ranked second on the team in blocks last season with 78 and was third in kills with 245.
“It is in the back of my head all the time,” Gray said. “We’re still adjusting; that’s why we’ve been playing all of these tournaments.”
The Bearkats return to Johnson Coliseum for a six-game homestand this Wednesday at 7 p.m. against Texas-Pan American. Friday marks the opening of conference play with Sam Houston State set to play Central Arkansas at 7 p.m.
“Our goal is to win every match at home, and compete at a high level,” Gray said. “We’ve been gone two weeks, and it’s nice to come back to the house. We played Pan-American in our first match of the season and got the win. I think we’re playing better now, but I’m sure they are better now too.”