OXFORD, Miss. – Once Northwestern State settled into its weekend finale match with Ole Miss, the picture of what the team could become came into view.
The Lady Demons fell to the Rebels 3-1 (25-11, 25-20, 21-25, 25-14), but were the first team to take a set from Ole Miss this season in five matches and showed plenty of what they are capable of in the middle two sets.
“We are capable of doing a lot of good things this season when we are consistent,” head coach Sean Kiracofe said. “The Tulane, Coastal and Ole Miss matches have shown that. But they’ve also shown that we have a way to go before we’re an experienced team that can close out against difficult teams. All of those matches and Monroe were good steps forward for this team that we need to continue to grow upon.”
The Rebels ran away with the opening set with behind challenging serves that either resulted in aces or over passes that conceded easy kills. The jump serve of Samantha Schnitta carried Ole Miss to a commanding 11-1 lead that they turned into an easy opening set win.
Five quick points from the Rebels to start the second once again put the Lady Demons in a difficult position playing from behind early. But the adjustment made between sets didn’t allow the same Rebel serve to rule the run of play.
Once NSU controlled the ball Symone Wesley and Breanna Burrell were able to take advantage of offensive opportunities. Back-to-back kills from the duo brought NSU within a pair at 9-7. The Lady Demons stayed within three points for the majority of the remainder of the set.
A kill from Autumn Gentry and an ace from Addison McDermott brought the margin back to two on separate occasions late, but the Rebels sealed the game with a 4-1 set-winning stretch.
The flow the Lady Demons fell into in the second carried over in the third as an slight uptick in Ole Miss errors allowed for NSU to take a set.
Down by a pair, a kill from Addison McDermott and two Ole Miss errors gave the Lady Demons their first lead of the match at 14-13. That was the beginning of a 9-1 run that firmly put NSU in position to get on the scoreboard.
An ace from McDermott and a pair of kills from Burrell, along with a block assist from the sophomore during the run, moved the Lady Demons ahead 20-14. Burrell finished the middle sets with six kills on 10 error-free swings. She had eight kills and a .333 attack percentage on the match, the second-best percentage of her career.
“Brea had another great offensive match,” Kiracofe said. “That was her second on the weekend against big blocks and quality defenses. The big swings are what you notice but I’m happiest with how she moved the ball around during broken plays.”
The Lady Demons reached set point a few serves later at 24-17, but the Rebels made things interesting late by holding off four straight NSU winners until Wesley found her third kill of the set off the top of the block to give the 25th point to the Purple and White.
Wesley led the team with 10 kills in the match, eight coming in the middle two sets. She added nine digs, matching Haley Hoang for the team lead, just missing her second double-double of the season.
“Symone had a great match where she had to take on a large amount of responsibility,” Kiracofe said. “She’s been the attacker that has ended up with the most attempts a majority of times this season but that hasn’t been against an SEC block and defense.
“I’m happy with her hitting percentage against that type of team. Also, there was a noticeable improvement in the tempo of her swings out of the backrow which is important for how I want to run our transition offense.”
NSU jumped ahead to a 5-2 lead early in the fourth but an 8-1 Ole Miss run turned the tide and put them in the lead where they wouldn’t look back. An 11-2 stretch minutes later all but sealed the day as a late kill from Burrell and a block from Jaylibeth Garcia-Rosa and Burrell were not enough to close the gap.
Garcia-Rosa finished the match with four kills and six blocks, capping off a solid weekend that earned her a spot on the all-tournament team, her first at NSU.
The Lady Demons travel to Grambling for a Wednesday evening match with the Tigers before another weekend tournament at former Southland foe Lamar beginning next Friday.