HUNTSVILLE, Texas – Northwestern State had just two matches to see how all the youth and new faces would look before starting Southland Conference play. The assessment from sixth-year head coach Sean Kiracofe after those matches was a good one.
“Very excited and very pleased,” Kiracofe said. “I still give them a solid B, because there’s a ton of room for improvement, a ton of room to clean some things up, but it was a great start.”
The Lady Demons (2-0, 0-0 SLC)) move straight into SLC play this week with two road matches against teams picked to finish in the top five in preseason poll. Thursday’s conference opener at Sam Houston (0-1, 0-1 SLC) is set for 6:30 p.m. from the Bearkats’ Johnson Coliseum.
A great start by the team was highlighted by several players, some of whom making their first appearances for NSU, and some where the expectations were high and easily matched.
Transfer Autumn Gentry had the third triple-double in program history in her first match at NSU while freshman Breanna Burrell found her offensive footing quickly with 21 kills in two matches with a .325 hitting percentage.
Taking over at the libero position was sophomore Haley Hoang, who met the role with high expectations from Kiracofe dating back to her recruitment. With a 6.7 dig per set average in her first two matches and a SLC Defensive Player of the Week honor already under her belt, it’s safe to say “Bro U” lives on at NSU.
“Had the total expectation that this is what she’s capable of doing,” Kiracofe said. “Believed that during the recruiting process and last year as she was coming in and playing right back defense for us.
“We knew that if the opportunity came, she could step into the libero role and hit the ground running and be great at it and she was. Once you sort of let her go, she’s going to find ways to keep the ball off the ground and get digs.”
While the defense led by Hoang was stellar, with so many new faces in charge of the offense seeing a pair of wins with the kind of efficiency the Lady Demons had most of the time, bodes well going forward for the team and freshman setter Ragan Ward.
While the highlight of Ward’s week was the long serving run where she totaled six aces, it was her ability to put the ball in the right spot for 39 assists that made just as much of a difference.
“She runs a great offense and has allowed us to speed things up,” Kiracofe said. “That’s something we’ve been doing as years have gone on. She was already running that in club and high school, so it’s been second nature to her. She’s been consistent and giving our attackers good looks to hit.”
The Lady Demons take on a Sam Houston team playing their second match of the year after losing a 3-2 decision to start conference play against Central Arkansas. In a normal season one match isn’t the end-all-be-all. In a shortened season where teams play each other just once, one match can make all the difference.
“This is kind of a taste of what football has to deal with on a regular basis,” Kiracofe said. “You get one shot and that’s it. It can all come down to one of your first few match ups in the regular season. You don’t get the luxury that we’ve usually had of a second chance at people.”
Preseason first-team attackers Ashley Lewis and Breanne Chausse had 36 of the 68 kills for the Bearkats in their loss to UCA, and lead a talented group advanced to the SLC Tournament championship match in 2019.
“To start out with Sam Houston, who returns pretty much everybody from last year, they’re going to have a great roster and a lot of talent,” Kiracofe said. “It’s a tough one to open up with, but it gives you an idea of where you’re at and what you need to work on.”
Fans wishing to attend the match at Sam Houston must purchase tickets prior to noon on gameday by logging on to GoBearkats.com or by calling the SHSU ticket office at (936) 294-1729.
The Johnson Coliseum capacity is limited to 1,218 fans. All fans purchasing a ticket will have a seat assignment on their ticket and are required to sit in the designated upper or lower reserved seat. No walk-up tickets are available for purchase. Those on the visitor pass list for NSU will enter gates 20 and 21 and will be seated in sections Q and R. All fans must wear face coverings.
Photo credit: Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services