SHSU chasing first place in Southland Conference

The Bearkats regained their step in the Southland Conference while adding on to the Southeastern Louisiana Lions’ woeful 1-10 league record Saturday at Johnson Coliseum.

But while Sam Houston State claimed the match in four sets to extend their league record to 9-1, Bearkat head coach Brenda Gray said Thursday was not a “perfect match.”

“We had to really overcome some adversity,” she said. “To me, some of the best matches are those where you can get around that and still come out on top.”

Although the Bearkats claimed 25-19, 23-25, 25-17, and 25-18, SLU came out aggressive early in the first set to pull off a quick 4 points before the Bearkats responded.

Despite the Lions’ tight defensive scheme, senior middle blocker Haley Neisler and junior outside hitter Deveney Wells-Gibson both laid down double-digit kills for the Bearkats.

Wells-Gibson led with 16 kills for the match and came up with 20 digs on defense.

Neisler added 12 kills and was credited on 7 block assists for the afternoon.

“I think it was not our best performance,” Neisler said. “But overall, it was good.”

The weak point during the match was the second frame, which the Bearkats dropped by two points.

Off the firepower from sophomore outside hitter Tiffany Thomas and freshman middle blocker Rachael Bunn, the Lions surged offensively. Thomas slammed down 6 kills that set with Bunn behind her with 5 on the night.

The Lions duo managed to throw SHSU off during the frame, which Neisler said was as uncharacteristic.

“Our communication got weak in the second game,” she said. “We started to make some errors that this team doesn’t normally make, but after that we pulled it together.”

Gray made a lineup change for the third set, switching freshman Breanna Homer from libero to outside hitter. She sent freshman Bearkat Claire Kilpatrick in Homer’s place.

The team put a lot of trust in her, Gray said.

Homer came in clutch at the outside position to hammer down 6 kills combined during the third and fourth sets.

The end of the fourth frame was tightly played as SHSU only led 18-16. The Bearkats surged for 7 of the next 9 points to pull out the victory against the Lions.

Thursday night, however, SHSU bullied the University of New Orleans in a quick three sets.

The Bearkats jumped out to quick 10-3 and 6-1 leads in the first and second sets.

Wells-Gibson led the charge against the Privateers with 13 kills, with Neisler and Carling Urben adding insurance of 9 and 8 kills, respectively.

The service line was deadly for the Bearkats as SHSU pulled off 10 service aces. Senior setter Tayler Gray accounted for three of them.

With SHSU coming off of a loss last week to Incarnate Word, Brenda Gray explained that they zoned in on their game.

“We really singled out aspects of our game,” she said. “We watched our opponents for this week, just to know what we were coming into. But we really just did blocking, and hitting offensive schemes.”

Focusing on blocking proved productive for SHSU.

The Bearkats’ front line rendered the Privateers’ offense irrelevant as they denied 9 of their attempts.

“Our front players are beginning to realize that they can be a presence at the net,” coach Gray said.

With the two weekend victories, the Bearkats are now 9-1 in SLC action, placing them second in conference and one game out of first place behind Central Arkansas.

SHSU will head to William R. Johnson Coliseum in Nacogdoches for the Battle of the Piney Woods against Stephen F. Austin State University with the first serve set for 6:30 p.m.

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