Plenty of ‘firsts’ for Lady Demons on opening day

STEPHENVILLE, Texas – Opening day at the Texan Invitational for Northwestern State volleyball will be filled with plenty of firsts.

NSU’s first day of the season begins with in-state rival ULM at 1 p.m. and ends with the weekend tournament’s host Tarleton State at 6 p.m. Links for live video and stats are available at Friday night’s match against Tarleton can be seen on ESPN+.

The Lady Demons are looking to take what they learned from the exhibition a week ago at Stephen F. Austin and put into practice, but even more importantly continue to bring the chemistry that exists off the court between the line that will lead to more efficiency and consistency on the court.

“We have really good chemistry off the court,” freshman middle Jordan Gamble said. “We’re with each other pretty much all day every day, especially the freshmen. We go places together, we eat together and then of course we come back and play, so it’s just a matter of time before that carries over on the court.”

From a scheme and execution perspective, head coach Sean Kiracofe can see the makings but just needing more time for things to develop.

“The offensive plays that we ran in serve receive and the thought process from our setters specifically was all good,” Kiracofe said about the match at SFA. “It just wasn’t necessarily connecting perfectly but at this point in the year we’re not expecting that just because we’re all new.

“I’m asking a lot of the new players to play a defense that’s a little different than what they’re used to. We had some people doing some great things defensively, just being athletes, but we also had them get out of position. But it’s an easy little correction of teaching them to not make that move when this happens. Those are things that will start to click as we get reps and work together.”

The match with ULM will be the first in the collegiate careers of several freshman, including Gamble who is expected to make her first collegiate start this weekend. The 6-foot-3 offensive and defensive presence has, as you might expect, a few butterflies leading up to her first match as a Demon.

“I always get really nervous before games,” she said. “So, I know it’s going to hit me, just waiting until we’re out there Friday to see exactly what the emotions are for me.”

It will also be the first of two matches this year against ULM, setting the Lady Demons up with the opportunity of learning and growing from one matchup to the other. That will be the expectation once conference play rolls around but a big progression moment for a large group of new players.

“That will be fun, in-state rival and a great way to start off the year.” Kiracofe said. “And fortunately for me from a coaching standpoint is we get to see them again later in the season in that fourth weekend as well. So, it will be how do we tie together those adjustments that will be made depending on how well or not well we play and vice versa.”

Another major first for the 2022 squad will come in the nightcap against Tarleton. With a loud and invested crowd, it will be the first taste of a hostile collegiate environment for the five freshmen and pressure moments for everyone.

“I’m really looking forward to playing Tarleton,” Kiracofe said. “We’re playing in that 6 p.m. slot on Friday night against them and looking forward to a great environment that’s going to be great for our girls, especially all the freshmen, to be like this is college athletics. Just right off the bat, there’s no easing into it.

“There’s going to be plenty of tournament games where you go out there and it’s just mom and dad in the stands and that’s it. But that Friday night is going to be a good environment.”

NSU finishes the weekend with a 1 p.m. match on Saturday against Fairleigh Dickinson.