The Sam Houston Bearkat volleyball team has been in some intense games recently, and Thursday night against the Northwestern State University Lady Demons was no different.
The Bearkats have played in three straight five set games, but unlike the first two, the Bearkats emerged victorious against the Lady Demons. The match against Northwestern State was not an easy one, as they were not an easy team to put away. The Bearkats went the distance against the Lady Demons and managed to finally put them away after a hot start to the final set got them an early lead that they would never relinquish.
The Bearkats started off the game very slow. In the first set, the Lady Demons aced the games’ very first point, and got off to a quick 3-0 lead. The lead then went to 8-2 before the Bearkats called their first timeout. The Bearkats responded with three straight points after the timeout to make the game 8-5, but once again the Lady Demons took over, taking a 15-7 lead, which led to a another Bearkat timeout. The Bearkats looked stuck in the mud, and head coach Brenda Gray took the team into the tunnel for the 75 second timeout. After the brief intervention, the Bearkats energy picked up, but they were still making mental errors, which ultimately led to the Lady Demons taking the first set 25-13.
“We were still getting our feet underneath us,” Gray said. “It felt like we had not played in two weeks, and we were stuck in the mud out there.”
In the second set, the Bearkats seemed to find their rhythm, storming out to 7-3 lead, which led to a Lady Demon timeout. The Bearkats came out of the timeout firing again, as they took the next two points to make it 9-3, which led to another Lady Demon timeout. After the second timeout, the Lady Demons really got it together. Mental errors by the Bearkats, and great blocking by the Lady Demon front line, led the charge for NWSU who tied the set at 14. The set went back and forth for the next eight points, which led to the set being tied at 18. From there on the Bearkats completely controlled the set, and took the Lady Demons out of their game plan. SHSU eventually won the set 25-20.
“We got our serving involved, and we served better to get them out of their system,” sophomore outside hitter Taylor Cunningham said. “Also, blocking helped us get more touches, and helped us slow the ball down and put the ball away.”
The third set was pure madness. The set started out 5-3 in favor of the Lady Demons, before the Bearkats responded by taking a 9-8 lead. The set continued to go back and forth before the Bearkats finally got some breathing room at 15-12. As soon as the Bearkats exhaled with a slight lead the Lady Demons stormed back to tie the set at 16, which led to a Bearkat timeout. The Bearkats came out of the timeout strong to take a 23-19 lead, and it looked like the Kats had finally put the Lady Demons away. Not quite, the Lady Demons responded with three straight points led by their ability to just keep every ball in the air long enough to get an opportunity to finish the point. At 23-22 the Bearkats responded to the Lady Demon run with kills by junior outside hitter Jordyn Vaughn and Cunningham to end the set.
When the fourth set started it was clear that this game was going to continue to be a hard fought one. The second point of the set lasted almost a full minute, and you could see the intensity and focus the two teams were playing with. The set was tied 5-5 after 10 points, and then tied at 9-9, before the Lady Demons gained some separation with a 13-10 lead, which led to a Bearkat timeout. The Lady Demons continued their strong play after the timeout, taking a 17-12 lead, which led to another Bearkat timeout. After the timeout the Bearkats really got going; after winning the first point after the timeout the Bearkats scored four consecutive points from Vaughn. SHSU tied the set at 17. The game then went back and forth until it was tied 20-20. After a Lady Demon timeout, the Bearkats scored three straight points to take a 23-20 lead, and put themselves in commanding position to take the set and the match. Northwestern State however, had other plans. The Lady Demons kept their level of play up to comeback and tie the set 23-23. The Bearkats looked like they didn’t know what hit them, and the Lady Demons took full advantage, winning the set 26-24, and forcing a winner take all fifth set.
“They were third in the conference for a reason,” senior setter Michelle Griffith said. “I mean they are a good team they are not going to just lay over and go down. They came out and wanted to beat us”
The fifth set could not have started any better for the Bearkats as they got off to a 5-1 start, which led to a Lady Demon timeout. The timeout did nothing to stop the Bearkat momentum, as they took a 10-2 lead. The Lady Demons however would not go quietly, as they began to trim down the lead to 11-6. The teams went back and forth, but the Lady Demons never truly threatened the Bearkats in the fifth set, as they took a 14-9 lead and won the game on a strong kill from Vaughn. SHSU took the final set, and the match, by a score of 15-10.
Cunningham hit a season-best 18 kills in the win, finishing the game with a .371 attacking percentage. Senior outside hitter Breanna Homer was also big for the Bearkats, but on the defensive end. She led the team with 17 digs.
SHSU (10-11, 4-4 SLC) won what was their biggest game of the season so far, and it was an emotional one. The Bearkats will have a quick turnaround, as they will hit the court again on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. to host Central Arkansas in the Health and Kinesiology Center. Admission is free to all fans.