Bearkats begin SLC play at Lamar

Sam Houston State will travel to Beaumont for the first serve in Southland Conference play Saturday against Lamar.

The Bearkats finished 7-6 in preseason and are hoping to start SLC 1-0. The seven victories are the most wins for a SHSU volleyball team going into their league opener since 1994.

The Cardinals will host the Bearkats and are looking to get their first victory of the 2014 season after wrapping up the preseason with a 0-12 record. SHSU defeated the Cardinals 3-1 in the 2013 season.

“I believe we are a higher caliber team,” senior outside hitter Devaney Wells-Gibson said.

The Bearkats have three true freshmen and ten returning players, including Southland Player of the Year Wells-Gibson.

Currently, Wells-Gibson is ranked ninth in attacks per set, 13th in kills per set, 18th in points per set, and is ranked 13th in the nation in total attacks.

Both teams have powerful, game changing middle blockers including Lamar’s go to player Cortney Moore. Moore was ranked 13th in the Southland Conference in attack percentage, averaging 2.67 kills per set last season. She leads her team with 20 solo blocks.

SHSU sophomore middle blocker Shelby Genung had her career high 17 kills in the preseason victory over SLC’s Oral Roberts.  Genung leads the team in blocks totaling 25, but she is the second leading scorer for the Bearkats with a total of 69 kills and 10 services aces.

The setters from both teams have great track records. Lamar’s Ashley Ellis started as a freshman last season and the Bearkats’ Michelle Griffith got her start as a sophomore.

Ellis played in 33 sets last season and totaled 239 assists, averaging 7.24 per set. Griffith is ranked fourth in the league in assists with 370 in 38 sets for a 9.74 average.

Lamar is also led by junior middle blocker Cortney Moore, sophomore right-side hitter Chelsea Grant and sophomore outside hitter Autumn Taylor. In tournament play against Northern Arizona, Moore led the Cardinals’ offense with 19 kills losing in four sets. Taylor dominated the Louisiana Tech match with 17 kills while Grant added 14 kills to the scoreboard.

Although Lamar has nine returning players, five freshmen and two transfers, but Wells-Gibson said the Bearkats have been focusing on themselves.

Defensively, the Cardinals are led by senior Erika Rojas, who was the only Cardinal to appear in all 105 sets last season. She picked up 16 digs in the match against Oklahoma. Redshirt senior Megan Schwartz split time as libero and outside hitter last season and dug 14 balls against Louisiana Tech.

Sophomores Claire Kilpatrick and Breanna Homer are the defensive playmakers for the Bearkats. Against TCU, Kilpatrick totaled 18 digs and Homer finished with 15.

Approaching Saturday’s matchup, Griffith and Wells-Gibson are confident in the team’s ability to win.

“Coach knows we have physically prepared up until this point,” Griffith said. “So other than fine tuning, we are focusing on the mental aspect of our game and knowing when to push through adversity.”

The first serve is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday.

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