The Southland Conference volleyball tournament tips off Friday in Natchitoches, LA with four quarterfinals matches. The No. 3 Sam Houston State University Bearkats have a 4 p.m. serve against the No. 6 McNeese Cowgirls.
Strong Reg. Season
SHSU finished the regular season 21-7 overall (with a 13-3 record in conference). The Kats were a perfect 9-0 at home against Southland opponents, but just 4-3 on the road. A pair of those losses, however, were against the eventual top two seeds of the conference tournament.
Prior to starting conference play, SHSU took part in the U.T. Arlington Tournament Sept. 14 and 15 where the Bearkats went 3-0 and defeated all three of their opponents in straight sets. The team finished 8-4 in their four non-conference tournaments before winning 13 of 16 SLC regular-season matches.
SHSU faced McNeese Sept. 20 to open conference play; the Kats won that matchup 3-1 in Huntsville. Since that meeting, SHSU picked up a dozen wins against SLC opponents and was undefeated in conference play at the Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum.
Southland Conference volleyball tournaments are no stranger to upsets, and the neutral site could play a big role for the top three teams who all dominated on their home courts this season.
The No. 1 SFA Ladyjacks sit atop the bracket heading into the tournament. SHSU matched up with SFA on the road Nov. 1 and dropped the match 3-1. The good news for the Kats is the only chance they have of seeing SFA in the tournament would be in the championship as the two powerhouses sit on opposite sides of the bracket. Despite the dominant performance by SFA during the regular season matchup, the neutral site in Louisiana could spell an opportunity for SHSU in the potential championship matchup.
Barring an upset, the road to a rematch against the rival Ladyjacks likely consists of a matchup with the No. 2 UCA Bears in the semifinals Saturday at 2:30 p.m. SHSU only dropped three conference matches all season, two of which were to SFA and UCA in the final couple weeks of the season. UCA will face No. 8 Northwestern State University Friday at 6:30 p.m.
As a team, SHSU led the Southland Conference in digs with an even 1800 on the year. Their average of 17.82 digs per set is 1.28 digs more than second-place SFA. Senior Madison Wallace finished with the most digs in the conference with 490 on the season. She also led the Southland with 39 service aces.
Another contributor to the offensive charge was senior Taylor Cunningham with her conference-leading 394 kills, 33 more than any other player in the conference. Jaclyn Ward (pictured to the right) will also be a player to watch as she led the Bearkats in assists with 864, the third-most in the conference.