ARLINGTON, Texas – Head coach Sean Kiracofe wanted to put his young team in competitive and pressure-packed situations entering the final tournament weekend. On Saturday, he got that and more from Tennessee State and UT Arlington.
The Lady Demons (6-9) played toe-to-toe with both teams but were bested each time. The day began with a 3-0 (31-29, 25-23, 25-15) loss to Tennessee State and ended with a thrilling 3-2 (25-21, 23-25, 25-18, 21-25, 15-13) decision to UTA. Although two marks on the right side of the column, opportunities aplenty to grow from the experiences.
Tennessee State 3, NSU 0
The seesaw battle between the Lady Demons and Tigers lasted for the entirety of the first two sets. Neither team built more than a five-point lead at any point and each team came up with key plays or committed costly errors that tilted play the other way. Unlike the meeting two years ago, this one ended in favor of the Tigers.
“It’s funny how full circle life can be,” head coach Sean Kiracfoe said. “We played Tennessee State in 2019 and won in three competitive sets. After the match Coach Sutton complemented our team on how disciplined they were throughout the match and most importantly during important moments.
“That’s how Tennessee St played today with a lot of seniors on the floor. It was really beneficial for us to be in those moments with a team that is going to make you earn everything. We didn’t do that this time but we’re getting closer.”
Symone Wesley gave the Demons a 12-11 lead with consecutive kills as her and Breanna Burrell set the attacking tone. Two quick Tiger kills pushed them back on top only to be answered by another kill from Wesley and a block from Reagan Lee and Kate Idrogo, epitomizing the standard of play throughout the match.
NSU maintained the slim lead eventually reaching a set-point opportunity following two TSU errors. A Tiger kill prevented the first and it appeared as if Burrell had given the Demons the winner on the next serve but following a review the swing just missed the line extending play beyond the 25 needed points.
The Tigers had the first edge after an ace followed an NSU service error and giving forcing the Demons to stand tall to extend the set. Jaylibeth Garcia-Rosa held off two set points across the next three serves to even the match at 27.
Two more Tiger errors gave the Lady Demons their second set point at 29-28, but like before they could not find the swing they needed to finish it off. TSU prevented the set win with a kill and ended the first with an ace for the dramatic 31-29 opening-set score.
NSU took its largest lead of the match after a 4-0 stretch run the middle of the second set. A kill from Wesley, ace from Piper Boydstun and block from Reagan Lee helped give the Lady Demons a 16-11 advantage.
TSU quickly closed the gap making it a one-point affair just moment later at 18-17. The Tigers stayed just at arm’s length with a late vital kill from Wesley, that made it 23-20, seemingly putting NSU in position to even the match a one set apiece.
The senior-laden Tigers stepped up in the critical moments that followed rattling off five straight points on three kills and a block and finishing the set for the second time with an ace to take the 2-0 match lead.
“If we execute during a few points at the end of set one and/or two it’s an entirely different match,” Kiracofe said. “What’s important is that we have a better outcome when we see those situations in conference.”
After tense battles in the first two sets, the Lady Demons fell behind early in the third as the Tigers continued their momentum from the emotional wins. TSU built an early five-point lead and stretched it to eight a few moments later answering each Demon point with two of its own.
The Demons made one final push with a7-1 run that began with consecutive kills from Autumn Gentry, Kate Idrogo and Wesley. The 4-0 answer from the Tigers cutoff the NSU comeback there and led to the 25-15 third set final.
UT Arlington 3, Northwestern State 2
If the first match of the day was a competitive appetizer for Northwestern State, the finale against UT Arlington was a five-course meal.
Five sets decided by less than four points on average that had a little bit of everything for the Lady Demons including a feat not done in six years and another that had not been done in 12.
Competitive back-and-forth sets were easily theme of the day and the theme of the match for NSU. In the opener neither team held more than a three-point lead the for the majority of the action. UTA briefly stretched it to four at 17-13, but the Lady Demons quickly closed the gap pulling to within a point on two occasions late after kills from Symone Wesley and Breanna Burrell and a block from Burrell and Audrey Quesnel.
Still down a point at 22-21, the Demons saw the opportunity for a first set win slip away on two Maverick kills and the winner come on an error that put them down a set.
UTA scored the first six points of the second set before back-to-back kills from Quesnel got the Demons on the board and started the chipping away of the lead. The steady Demons continued to climb their way back from the early hole, answering one Maverick point with two of their own.
The persistence paid off at the end of the set where the Demons sprinted ahead on an 8-1 run. Two big blocks and two kills each from Kate Idrogo and Burrell carried the run that put the Demons ahead 23-19. The 4-0 Maverick run that followed tested the mettle of the young Demons and they responded.
Burrell ended the run with her fourth kill of the set and Wesley tied the match a one set on the next serve.
The Lady Demons took a small step backwards in the third set as UTA jumped ahead early 13-4 and held the comfortable lead the rest of the way. NSU turned the tables in the fourth however as they sprinted ahead early thanks to a little help from UTA errors.
Eight Maverick errors opened the door for the Demons to force a decisive fifth set, a door that Burrell was glad to kick in. One day after matching her career high with 15 kills against Prairie View A&M, the sophomore set a new best with 19 against UTA, picking seven in the fourth set alone. At one point she was responsible for seven straight NSU points that made it a 22-16 frame.
The Mavericks fought back to within a point at 22-21 before their eighth error gave the Demons the two-point edge and the block of Quesnel and Wesley presented NSU with set point. Jaylibeth Garcia-Rosa sent the match to the fifth with an ace on the next serve.
The Demons erased an early deficit in the fifth with a 6-0 run to go ahead 7-5. It remained close until the Mavericks went to their go-to player Brooke Townsend, who led all players with 23 kills. She hammered home four straight to give UTA its first match point.
NSU stood strong holding off four straight match points on kills from Burrell and Addison McDermott, a block from Wesley and Garcia-Rosa and an Ashlyn Svoboda ace but the margin was just a bit too great as the final ball fell on the NSU side ending a classic showdown.
Burrell and Idrogo each had new career best kill total in the match with 19 and 13 respectively. Nine different players scored in the match for the Demons thanks to Piper Boydstun’s 51 assists. It was the first time an NSU setter had more than 50 assists in a match since 2009.
While Boydstun was dishing out kills left and right, the NSU block had one of their best performances under Kiracofe. With 15.0 total blocks, led by Quesnel’s nine and Garcia-Rosa’s six, it was the first time and NSU team reached that number since 2015.
The Lady Demons return home on Saturday as they begin Southland Conference play with Southeastern Louisiana. First set is set for 1 p.m. at Prather Coliseum.