SAN ANTONIO – The first road swing of the season begins on Thursday as Northwestern State takes on UIW with both teams searching for its first conference win of the season.
The Lady Demons (6-10, 0-1) dropped their opener to Southeastern this past Saturday while the Cardinals (5-10, 0-1) were swept by preseason favorite Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. First serve is set for 6:30 p.m., with live coverage links, including video, available at www.nsudemons.com.
Across the past three matches, NSU has seen its share of close sets jammed with pivotal moments. Seven times in the past 12 sets the margin of victory has been four points or less, with four decided by the two-point minimum.
It’s in those moments, that head coach Sean Kiracofe wants to see his team take the next step. Beyond the offensive consistency that has begun to fall into place behind Breanna Burrell, Symone Wesley and Jaylibeth Garcia-Rosa and the stalwart defense led by Haley Hoang, it is the key plays in the crucial moments that will move the team forward.
“We have certain benchmarks we want to reach in terms of kills per set, digs per set and all that,” Kiracofe said. “We’ve been really close to those and when you look at those numbers even after a frustrating loss, they aren’t bad.
“It just comes down to that time frame of points 20 to 25. Those are the points that matter more than the rest of them, and we haven’t been able to execute in those moments yet. The more you’re in those situations the more comfortable you become in them. It’s just the evolution of a team that will eventually start to pay off.”
Those key moments were there in the match against Southeastern and will assuredly be present this weekend and every weekend moving forward.
The Cardinals have lost their past six matches in a row, due in large part to a reduced roster including the absence of preseason all-conference outside hitter Bethany Clapp. The senior has missed the past five matches and UIW is 5-5 with her on the floor. She sits at second in the conference in kills per set with a 3.51 average.
“UIW is a much-improved team and that’s been an evolution over the past three or four years,” Kiracofe said. “They finally have the pieces where they can put something out there to complement Clapp. She’s somebody that you need to focus your defense on and stop but now they have a lot of pieces to add around her.”
It’s been a pair of underclassmen that have carried the load offensively in the past couple of weeks with freshman Risa Sena and sophomore Allison Palmi reaching double figures kills on multiple occasions.
“We’re going to have to be prepared for two separate teams and see who shows up,” Kiracofe said. “Ultimately it comes down to our execution on a consistent basis. We’ve been able to play at a high level but being able to keep that consistent. The errors are going to happen, but they can’t be mental breakdown errors at the end of sets.”
Photo: Gary Hardamon