Lady Demons not looking past Abilene Christian

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Photo by Gary Hardaman

Northwestern State volleyball could not have asked for a much better first half of Southland Conference play.

The Lady Demons (15-7, 7-1 SLC), who were picked seventh in the SLC preseason poll, wrapped up the first eight matches this past weekend with an impressive 7-1 mark in league play. The lone loss coming in the opener to Sam Houston on September 26.

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“It was a fantastic first half of the conference,” coach Sean Kiracofe said. “We’re really happy with it. I felt like at the beginning of the season us getting picked to finish seventh was wrong. Most coaches, if they’re picked low, are going to feel that as well. I felt really confident in what this group could do.”

Since the loss, NSU rattled off seven wins in a row, with just one going more than four sets during that time and sit in a tie for second in the conference with eight matches remaining.

The Lady Demons have two important home matches to begin the second half of the schedule, with Abilene Christian and Stephen F. Austin. Both matches pose their own distinct challenges as NSU hopes to match its longest winning streak in program history.

NSU hosts Abilene Christian (5-13, 3-5 SLC) on Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at Prather Coliseum with a chance to tie the record streak of eight. Complimentary admission to the match is provided by the Louisiana Army National Guard. Live coverage links are available through www.nsudemons.com.

With the match against SLC volleyball power, and current top seed, Stephen F. Austin looming on Saturday, a distinct focus on ACU will have to prevail for the Lady Demons if they hope to add another mark in the win column.

“It’s something that we’ve dealt with before,” Kiracofe said. “Obviously it’s a big match with SFA but ACU is a dangerous team. They beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and we know how they can play, so it’s not something where you can jump ahead.

“We talked about that at the very beginning of conference. Being present for every single match and focusing on that one. That is easier to do when you’re talking about matches that are farther out, but when it’s just a couple days, it’s a lot more difficult to not look ahead. ACU has its own different things we have to prepare for, so we’ll have to focus on that.”

The Wildcats snapped a five-game skid on Tuesday with a dominant 3-0 home win against New Orleans. During their losing streak, ACU won just three sets during the five matches.

“They’ve struggled some this year and so they have been trying some different things,” Kiracofe said. “Moving some of their better players around to different positions to see what clicks. They’re tried a 6-2, been in a 5-1 lately, so we can’t get into the mindset that we’ve seen this group for the last three years because that group is gone. It’s going to be an entirely different look than what we’ve seen the last few years and that’s going to cause its own problems.”

Abilene ranks near the bottom of the conference in hitting percentage at .174 while surrendering a .250 clip to their opponents, second highest in the SLC. Their net defense has been a strong point throughout the season, averaging 2.07 block per set, fourth best in the conference.  Three players boast total blocks over 47.0 on the season, with middle blocker Lorin McNeil and outside hitter Marybeth Sandercox each sitting at 50.

Fans will have just three more chances to see the Lady Demons at home after Thursday’s match with Abilene Christian.