OXFORD, Miss. – The Sean Kiracofe era of Northwestern State volleyball got off to a smashing start Friday.
After dropping the first set to Tennessee State, NSU rallied to capture the next three and grab a 3-1 season-opening victory at the Magnolia Invitational hosted by Ole Miss. NSU dropped the first set, 25-19, before rattling off a 25-17, 25-17, 25-18 finish to the match.
“It was great for us,” Kiracofe said. “It was great to get a win under our belts with a nice reminder that it’s not going to be easy in any of the matches. Losing the first set was a great reminder of that. They did just what I wanted with adjustments and a change in mentality. They calmed themselves down like they have all fall camp.
NSU (1-0) turned in a balanced performance offensively and defensively.
Lauren Agan and Amanda Kunz led the offense with 11 kills each, while freshman Channing Burleson delivered 10 in her collegiate debut.
Agan chipped in 11 digs for a double-double, while Bailey Martin led the way with 12 digs. Freshman setter Kathryn Wristen delivered a double-double of 21 assists and 10 digs in her first career appearance.
“(Wristen) did a great job,” Kiracofe said. “Honestly, she struggled in the first set and into the second set. She was able to calm down and put her attackers in position to do their jobs. When they started putting the ball down, she settled down and ran the offense.
“As a freshman, it is expected that she will struggle at the beginning. I credit (assistant coach) Alicia (Roth) with helping her calm down. After that, she did a good job of running the offense.”
The NSU offense became more efficient in the second and third sets, highlighted by a .571 hitting percentage in the third.
Kunz led the way in that pivotal set, connecting on six kills in seven attempts. Kunz had three kills late in the set to stave off a Tennessee State run and put NSU in control of the match.
“Amanda was fantastic,” Kiracofe said. “She was smart with her shots. She hit some hard ones. She hit some deep angles. She scored off a number of different sets. She scored across the net and in different ways.”
After allowing Tennessee State’s Arijana Anderson and Chloe Watson to combine for seven first-set kills, NSU tweaked its defense and held the duo to 11 kills in the final three sets. Anderson and Watson each finished with nine kills in the match.
Much like Wristen did individually, NSU seemed to rid itself of some nervous energy early in the match.
“It came down to handling the ball,” Kiracofe said. “We were playing a lot of balls that should have been unforced errors. We weren’t putting them in position to give us free points. We were letting them off the hook. We stopped playing those balls and started handling the ball better. It allowed us to settle down and run our offense.
“We did a few things on defense to funnel where we wanted them to attack, and then Bailey, Channing, Lauren and Kathryn did a great job of playing defense.”
Northwestern State concludes play in the Magnolia Invitational with a pair of matches Saturday. NSU starts early, facing former Southland Conference rival Oral Roberts at 9 a.m. and wraps up play by facing host Ole Miss at 7:30 p.m. The match against Ole Miss will be available on SEC Network Plus, a mobile app developed by the SEC and ESPN.