Bearkats set to reclaim Southland top spot

Sam Houston State volleyball is getting back to basics this week as they take on Southland Conference rivals and reestablish their reign in the league.

The Bearkats return to Johnson Coliseum to host the University of New Orleans Thursday with Southeastern Louisiana driving in for a Saturday afternoon match.

Bearkat junior outside hitter Deveney Wells-Gibson said SHSU will need to match the intensity of their opponents to maintain a steady fight – a problem evident against Incarnate Word last week in San Antonio.

“I think we were a little taken aback by their aggressiveness,” she said. “But, we vowed to not let that happen again.”

UIW gave the Bearkats their first conference loss with aggressive offensive attacks and keeping SHSU offensive tools at bay with dominating front line coverage.

Wells-Gibson said this week’s practices have improved the Bearkats quick offensive scheme, working blocking drills to solidify the front line.

“We sort of lost sight of blocking [against UIW,]” she said. “Now we need to bring it back into our game.”

The UNO Privateers will not bring strength on offense or defense due to low hitting percentages and weak defensive coverage.

Defensive errors plague UNO in several key categories that are crucial to picking up victories: service, service reception and blocking.

On serve-receive, the Privateers have accumulated 165 errors– twice their opponents’ 80 errors.

The deficit in the Privateers’ blocking contributes to their high opponent hitting average that has collected 89 blocks on the season–a shadow of their opponents’ 130 blocks.

The Privateers have committed 143 serving errors this season while their opponents’ service errors combine for 152 — an average 7 errors per team.

The key to victory for SHSU is staying focused, using its arsenal of offensive firepower and sealing the net against UNO.

With Wells-Gibson leading the Bearkat offense alongside seniors Tayler Gray and Haley Neisler, the keys to victory are definitely in their hands.

“We had our ‘oops’ and we are all aware of that,” Gray said. “We are ready to play someone else and show them we aren’t playing around anymore.”

In SHSU’s weekend stretch against Abilene Christian, Gray assisted on 52 of the Bearkats’ 64 kills — opening up the offense for Wells-Gibson and Neisler.

Wells-Gibson connected with Gray for 28 kills last game while Neisler accounted for 10.

Neisler plays double-duty for SHSU as she is a dominant force on the front lines, sitting fourth in the SLC with 54 blocks recorded for the season.

Against Southeastern Louisiana, SHSU can’t play down to their opponent.

The Lions roll into town on a 7-14 overall record and 1-8 in SLC action.

“We already learned the hard way that we can’t play to our opponents level,” Grey said. “Any given night that we don’t bring our A-game we could be in trouble.”

At the center of the Lions’ offense stand sophomores Tiffany Thomas and Mikayla Shippy, as outside hitter and setter, respectively.

Thomas has appeared in 74 sets for the Lions, posting 218 kills. One of her strongest performances this season came at the Florida Atlantic University Invitational tournament against Florida Atlantic. Thomas drilled 16 kills home and earned a spot on the FAU All-Tournament Team.

Shippy shined during the Lions’ match with Nebraska-Omaha in mid-September where she set up 54 assists.

The Lions’ strength will be their blocking. With 158.5 blocks, they’ve outscored opponents by nearly twenty blocks on the season.

Currently, SHSU is one of three teams on the heels of SLC-leader University of Central Arkansas in league standings. With two wins this weekend, SHSU hopes to narrow UCA’s lead and regain conference prominence.

The first serve against New Orleans is set for 7 p.m.

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