Third-set block party propels Lady Demons to win

NATCHITOCHES – After splitting a pair of tightly contested sets to start the match, Northwestern State’s block came alive in the third, boosting it to a 3-1 (21-25, 25-17, 25-19, 25-19) in the regular season finale Saturday afternoon.

A total of six team blocks in the third, five off the hands of middle Jaylibeth Garcia-Rosa, paved the way for the Lady Demons (11-18, 5-9) to secure the important win against Nicholls (10-19, 4-10), the team they will see again on Thursday in the first round of the Southland Conference Tournament.

Garcia-Rosa is the first player since 2018 to record 10 or more blocks in a match, finishing with 11 total blocks, a new career high and the second most in a single match in program history. She is just the fifth Lady Demon to ever record 10 blocks in a match.

“We had those blocking opportunities in the first, but we weren’t very disciplined with it,” head coach Sean Kiracofe said. “For those times when the attacker is just a little bit off you have to take advantage and be disciplined, and that’s what we did in the third and it turned in our favor. Those chances were there early in the match, so I was happy to see us be more disciplined in the third and the rest of the match to take advantage of when they hit into us.”

After dropping a close first set 25-21, the Lady Demons surged ahead in the second with an 8-2 run, fueled by kills from five different players. Ahead 20-16 late in the set, a pair of kills from Garcia-Rosa and one each from Addison McDermott and Reagan Lee sealed the 25-17 second-set final to even the match at one set each.

“We created the offensive situations we wanted in the first, but we just didn’t put the ball away,” Kiracofe said. “So to turn around and be more productive in the second was great. We had a slow start in the third and it came down to fight and us not trading back and forth when it felt right for us. I was proud of them for being able to make a stand and saying, ‘I want to win the match,’ and making it happen.”

A 4-0 Colonel run early in the third gave them a 14-8 lead, but a three-point burst provided the first spark for the Lady Demons in the set. Down 17-12, the Lady Demons began their push for the match with three straight points, the final point coming on a solo block from Garcia-Rosa.

The Lady Demons scored six of the final 11 points with devastating block after devastating block, with Garcia-Rosa in the middle of nearly all of them. Symone Wesley and McDermott helped on two straight the put NSU ahead and three straight sealed the win with Burrell slamming the door with a solo for the final point.

“The first two sets we were all over the place and we weren’t balanced at the net,” Garcia-Rosa said. “We had a lot more communication in the third and we weren’t fighting to find where the hitters were going. We really started to close the block much better as well and the energy after one block just builds and keeps going.”

With all the momentum on their side after the thrilling set win, the Lady Demons jumped ahead midway through the fourth with a 4-0 run led by Ashlyn Svoboda’s kill and two aces to take a 16-11 lead.

The Colonels closed the gap to within a point but a match-winning 6-1 run by the Demons ended the day and gave NSU an important victory.

Five players had eight or more kills in the match, led by Burrell and McDermott who finished with 10. Setters Ragan Ward and Autumn Genry each had assist-dig double-doubles in the match and Garcia-Rosa was one kill short of a kill-block double-double.

“The offense was great and really spread out today,” McDermott said. “It was definitely better than the last time we played them. They really focused on Jayli and (Reagan) Lee in the middle and left us a lot of opportunities to be able to score.”

The win gives NSU the six seed heading into next week’s conference tournament where they will face the Colonels in the first match of the tournament at 12 p.m. on Thursday afternoon. The match will air live on ESPN+ with the winner to play No. 3 McNeese on Friday.

“This game was super important to us just like Thursday is,” McDermott said. “We knew that we needed to make a statement and fix what happened last time we played them. This gives us more confidence to be able to do it again on Thursday.”

Photo: Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services