NATCHITOCHES – It took two sets for Northwestern State to find its footing in the straight-set loss to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, but once it did the young team showed plenty of progress and promise to sixth-year head coach Sean Kiracofe.
The Lady Demons (2-2, 0-2) were hopeful to find out if the momentum they built in the third against Corpus would carry over to the next match. While that is still the case, the time between matches went from two days to 12 after COVID-19 forced another match postponement. Now it will be the first two sets at Lamar on Tuesday that will determine whether that momentum and growth carries forward for the Lady Demons.
“It was progress and there was good stuff there,” Kiracofe said following the loss to Corpus. “Being able to carry this over fully depends on set one and two on Saturday. I think we’ll need something to go our way to give us that validation that what we did tonight works and will work better in the next match. It should carry over and it should be a confidence builder, it’s just not the easiest thing to know right now immediately after the match.”
A clear part of the progression the Lady Demons have seen through the first four matches has been the play at the net, especially from middle blockers Reagan Lee and Audrey Quesnel. Against Corpus the two combined for 12 kills on 22 swings with just three errors, an outstanding .409 hitting percentage for the match.
The faster pace from the setters has made the middle of the NSU offense increasingly more dynamic to go along with the already stout defense. The duo each has more than 10 blocks on the season and average nearly a block per set.
“They had good offensive matches and had some blocks to follow that up,” Kiracofe said. “They were able to either create offense by being fast in transition, being on time and where you need to be, or find some seams and make some offense on their own against a big opponent on the other side of the net.”
While the middles shined in the loss to Corpus and the defense kept the Lady Demons in the match most of the night, thanks to tremendous play from libero Haley Hoang and the effort from setters Ragan Ward and Autumn Gentry, it is still the offense on the pins that left fans wanting more.
A total of 39 errors in the first two conference matches have made life difficult for the Lady Demons. They were able to escape the 34 combined errors in the wins against Louisiana Tech and Grambling thanks to video-game numbers in service aces (29) and blocks (31) in those matches.
“The consistency is the biggest thing we’re looking for right now,” Kiracofe said. “We’re making errors that we just can’t make – ever. There are errors that are going to happen at the net, that’s unavoidable, but there are some that we just can’t make, or you see them very rarely. Everybody in the gym can see those things we need to clean up and that’s something that we need to eliminate.”
Lamar (0-8, 0-3) has endured a similar lengthy lay-off after its match against Sam Houston over the weekend was postponed due to the winter storm that ravaged the region. It will be 10 days between matches for the Cardinals, their last a 3-0 loss at Abilene Christian.
Much like NSU, it has been the offense that has handcuffed Lamar in the three matches so far during spring season. Hitting percentages falling below .170 in each match with a more than 20 attack error average has led to just one set win in 10 attempts.
The Lady Demons have a chance to continue to work to improve on the offensive consistency starting Tuesday night in Beaumont.
Photo Credit: Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services