CONWAY, Arkansas – With the exception of one set, the Northwestern State volleyball team was unable to overcome mid-set dips in production in Saturday afternoon’s Southland Conference Volleyball Tournament semifinal against Sam Houston State.
Despite double-doubles from conference Player of the Year Hannah Brister and senior Alexis Warren, the third-seeded Lady Demons fell to No. 2 seed Sam Houston State 3-1 (25-22, 25-23, 23-25, 25-22) at the Farris Center on the campus of Central Arkansas.
“It was another good one in a long list of competitive matches against Sam Houston State,” fifth-year head coach Sean Kiracofe said. “Our matches against them are always worth the ticket.”
Brister collected her second 20-kill, 20-dig double-double of the tournament, registering 27 kills and 21 digs while Warren added 13 kills and 17 digs in her final match at Northwestern State.
Each of the first two sets played out in similar fashion – the teams trading points early before Sam Houston State (18-12) used a mid-set rally to gain the momentum and hold off several NSU pushes.
The Bearkats pulled ahead methodically in the opening set after the teams traded the first six points of the match. Sam Houston State built its largest lead of the set at 17-12 in large part because of a 5-2 run after a Darria Williams kill brought Northwestern State (20-12) within 12-10.
The Lady Demons immediately answered with a 4-0 push to cut the lead to one on a Brister ace, but back-to-back kills by Brenne Chausse re-established the Bearkats’ three-point lead, giving them enough cushion to pull out a three-point win in the opening set. Brister knocked down six kills on 10 error-free swings in the opening set, but the Bearkats limited NSU to a .171 hitting percentage in the opening stanza.
The second set followed suit as the teams split the first six points. This time, the Bearkats made their run earlier in the set.
An Ashley Lewis kill started a 5-1 run that provided enough cushion for Sam Houston State to hold off the Lady Demons, whose defense and passing improved throughout the set. NSU pulled within two at 17-15 on a Williams kill and with one at both 23-22 and 24-23 on Sam Houston State errors.
However, an Ashleigh Traylor kill gave Sam Houston State a 25-23 set win and a 2-0 lead in the match.
A faster start in the third set gave Northwestern State its largest lead of the match, a 10-5 advantage on a Warren kill. The lead dissipated after a 7-1 Berakats run, setting up a back-and-forth final half of the set. Neither team was able to create more than a two-point advantage, which was the final margin after Warren snapped a 23-all tie with a kill and Williams knocked down the clinching point.
“Because the previous two matchups were so close, we came out with a different look to see what, if anything, would be created from it,” Kiracofe said. “In the third, we went back to what we normally do. Despite those changes, I think the third set just came down to the determination of this group.”
NSU built a 10-7 lead in the final set before Sam Houston State rattled of 10 of the next 13 points to take a 17-13 lead. The Lady Demons’ defense, fueled by a pair of combo blocks from Warren and fellow senior Kourtney Seaton, pulled NSU within one on a pair of occasions, but the Bearkats answered each time to clinch their third win of the season against the Lady Demons.
Saturday’s match marked the end of the NSU careers for Warren, Seaton (6 kills, 4 block assists), Megan Lohmiller (17 digs) and Cayman Sutton (29 assists, two service aces). The quartet helped the Lady Demons reach three straight conference tournaments and notch just the fifth 20-win season in program history.
“I couldn’t be more proud of what this senior class has done for the program,” Kiracofe said. “It’s been great getting to work with this group for four years, and I can’t put into words how much they’re going to be missed.”
Photo: Senior Alexis Warren (foreground) delivered a double-double in her final collegiate match. Credit: Bradley Whiting/UCA Athletics