Steady play from middle carries NSU into final tournament weekend

ARLINGTON, Texas – Northwestern State carries its mini hot streak into the final tournament weekend of the season as more and more consistent offense joins the steady defense.

The Lady Demons (5-7) embark on the final tournament weekend of the year before Southland Conference play with another trio of matches beginning Friday afternoon. NSU takes on their final Southwestern Athletic Conference team of the year in Prairie View A&M at 4 p.m. and close the non-conference schedule on Saturday with an 11 a.m. match against Tennessee State and a primetime affair with host UT-Arlington at 6:30 p.m.

All matches will be live streamed with links available at Saturday’s finale with the Mavericks will be broadcast on ESPN+.

Consistency has been the key word for the Lady Demon offense since the beginning of this season. Finding the reliability and dependability on several fronts to create a dynamic and difficult to stop offense.

While there are still steps yet to be taken to fully lock in the consistency that head coach Sean Kiracofe is looking for from the team, more noticeable strides have been taken over the past week.

During the current three-match winning streak the Lady Demons have had three players score double-digit kills each time. They’ve accomplished the feat four times in the past five matches, all NSU wins, as well.

While the offense as a whole continues to take steps forward, one area that plays a key role on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, and a position that has provided plenty of consistency all year, is the middle blocker, led by junior Jaylibeth Garcia-Rosa.

“They’ve all done a really good job, just like they did last year, of being consistent and giving us offense and blocks as well,” Kiracofe said. “Jayli has taken a step forward of being that consistent player that can go out and get a certain level of offense. She’s also a very smart blocker and can put herself in positions to terminate and put the ball down and not just alter what those attackers are trying to do.

“Regan Lee and Audrey (Quesnel) are doing a fantastic job of working hard and provide us with some different looks for the opposing team and can score in different ways and in different ways from each other.”

The number that Garcia-Rosa and the other middles have put up don’t necessarily jump off the page but they have been there, match over match, set over set and according to Garcia-Rosa it boils down to the work they started in the summer.

“We’ve been working really hard since the summer with our blocking drills and that definitely has helped me a lot,” she said. “Communication with my pins on where they’re going to be and whether they’re going to block cross or line and just watching film helps a lot. You can scout the team and know where they like to hit so you can be faster on the court.”

It stands a no surprise that the NSU block has performed at the level it has with Kiracofe, a former blocker during his playing days, providing insight and expertise to his players daily on the position.

“I used to guess a lot when I was blocking,” Garcia-Rosa said. “The past year coach has been helping me be more balanced and reacting when you see the set to go and block. If you’re guessing, you could take a step wrong and then you’re going to be late. He’s also helped me a lot with getting my hands higher and having them in the right position over the net.”

The Lady Demons, behind that steady middle and stout defense, look to continue taking steps toward where they want to be when Southland Conference play begins a week from Saturday. The final tune ups begin on Friday in Arlington.

Prairie View A&M (0-9) is the fifth and final SWAC opponent NSU faces this season and the third in that past four matches. Tennessee State (5-1) began the season with five straight victories before being swept by Evansville earlier this week. UTA (0-6) return to action for the first time in two weeks after COVID protocols forced the cancelation of their matches this past weekend.

“We’re going in looking for three wins, that’s the goal,” Kiracofe said. “We play UTA on Saturday night as the sort of primetime match which is more of a normal time slot for our conference games. It’s going to allow for a decent fan base there and a better environment to maybe have the chance for a pressure situation that it hard to replicate in practice and what we’re going to see come conference play.

“Prairie View and Tennessee State are going to present their own challenges for us to figure out. Tennessee State have a much different look than we played them in 2019 that was a ridiculously fast offense so it won’t be quite the same but they’ve been playing really well and it’ll provide a challenge to us.”

Photo Credit: Gary Hardamon

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