STEPHENVILLE, Texas – An impressive team performance bolstered by a freshman standout and a dramatic comeback all added up to a memorable ending to opening weekend for Northwestern State.
The Lady Demons (2-1) used their size and length at the night on the way to a record-setting 20 total blocks, including 10 from freshman Reaghan Thompson, to pull out the 3-2 (23-25, 22-25, 27-25, 25-21, 15-8) reverse sweep of Fairleigh Dickinson (1-2) on Saturday afternoon.
Despite late rallies in both the first and second sets, where they held off eight different set points, the Lady Demons found themselves with their back against the wall down two sets to none.
“We struggled with ball control for the first half of the match which prevented us from being aggressive on offense and allowed them to benefit from their height advantage,” head coach Sean Kiracofe said. “In the third they started to miss some serves which gave us an opportunity to take the set.”
Down by five near the mid-point of the third set, the combination of a more robust NSU block and errant FDU serves shifted the tide of the match.
A block from Symone Wesley and Jordan Gamble began a run of six straight points coming from either an NSU rejection at the net or FDU service error, including three straight errors during the sequence. Thompson provided a solo at the end of the run and combined with Breanna Burrell for the final that made it a one-point game.
Those blocks, and another from Madisynne McQueen, were part of a larger 8-2 run that put the Demons in the driver’s seat in the third. FDU was able to force extra rallies, holding off one set point, but two more errors helped NSU stay alive with the 27-25 set victory.
“We’re using something this year that the U.S. Marines say which is ‘protect what you earn,” Kiracofe said. “I told them before the fourth set that they earned that third by beating both FDU and themselves which isn’t an easy thing to do so go out and protect that win.”
After trading point for the majority of the fourth set, NSU trailed 20-19 before making the match-defining run that pushed them over the edge towards a dramatic win.
Burrell started the 6-1 run to win the fourth with a kill, which was followed by a block from Thompson and Addison McDermott, and ace from Jordan Gamble and another block from Burrell. McQueen provided the final dagger with a kill to send the match to a fifth and final set.
NSU had three blocks in the fourth set but 10 total in the third and fifth, with five of the 15 points needed in the fifth coming from NSU blocks.
“The blocking, especially later in the match, just came from a mix of staying consistent while making some minor pragmatic adjustments from earlier,” Kiracofe said.
The run that ended the fourth turned into an 11-2 stretch overall as NSU jumped ahead early in the fifth. Thompson, who had three blocks in the fifth set and eight in the final three sets, had back-to-back stops that gave NSU the 8-3 lead at the turn. NSU ended the match with a 4-1 run that featured kills from Gamble and Burrell and blocks from Gamble and McDermott and the game-winner from Thompson.
“Reaghan was great this match and during the weekend overall,” Kiracofe said. “This is only a peek at what I believe she is capable of. She led us in scoring over the weekend which is not an easy thing to do for a middle, and Jordan was third overall in total points.
“Two things came into play – one Reaghan is also a talented soccer player and two FDU had another five-set match right before ours. When we got to the fourth set, I told her to go run them into the ground. She went out and did that, and I think could have kept going for another five sets.”
Thompson is the sixth player in program history to have 10 blocks in a match, tying the record for third most all-time. Her seven solo stops is also tied for second most in a match. She just missed a kill-block double-double with nine kills. NSU had six players record five or more kills in the match, led by Burrell’s 11.
Photo: Courtesy of Tarleton State Athletics