Lady Demons split pair of five-set matches to end week

HAMMOND – A long week on the road ended with one of the longest days for Northwestern State who split a pair of five-set matches on the final day of the Battle of the Boot.

After a thrilling five-set win against Louisiana Tech on Friday, the Lady Demons (6-5), for the second time this season went the distance with ULM to start the day, this time falling to the Warhawks 3-2 (26-24, 24-26, 20-25, 25-23, 15-13).

Later in the day NSU fought through tired legs and fatigue to come away with a 3-2 (25-16, 23-25, 23-25, 25-19, 15-8) win against Southern. In less than 24 hours in Hammond the Lady Demons played a total of 15 sets.

In many ways reminiscent of the first time NSU and ULM faced each other this season, the nail-biting match went the full five sets with the Warhawks able to sneak away with the 3-2 (26-24, 24-26, 20-25, 25-23, 15-13) win.

“It was a well-fought match by both teams,” head coach Sean Kiracofe said. “Unlike when we saw them at Tarleton State the first time, we were the team that made just a couple more errors when it mattered. We had opportunities to put the match away and just need to develop a finisher mentality to not leave wins on the table.”

After splitting the first two sets of the day by the same score, 26-24, the Lady Demons (5-5), who won the second, seemingly had found the offensive flow they needed.

A string of attack errors allowed the Warhawks to pull within a point late in the set, but after a timeout to settle things down NSU got three straight kills from the duo of Breanna Burrell and Symone Wesley to kick the offensive into gear. The seven kills down the stretch allowed the Demons to even the match at one set each with the flow carrying over into a mostly dominant third set.

NSU had 19 kills in the second set, the most in a single set this year, setting the stage for one of their best offensive sets of the year in the third. The .333 attack percentage, with just two errors in the third, created the most one-sided set of the match that ended with 25-20 NSU win.

Burrell and Jordan Gamble were the most effective in their swings nine combined kills on 17 error-free swings.

The offensive execution ran out of steam however in the fourth and fifth sets as the errors rose again and the inconsistency in finishing points prevented NSU from ending the match in four sets.

NSU won every statistical category in the match, but the five more attack errors nearly completely accounted for the six-point difference in score in the three sets the Demons lost on the day.

Three players reached double-figure kills in the match with Burrell and Wesley matching season highs. Jordan Gamble had her second 10-kill match of the season and was one block shy of an the elusive kill-block double-double with nine rejections in the match.

Three different players also had 20 or more digs in the match – Ashlyn Svoboda (26), Laura Weatherford (21) and Wesley (20) – giving NSU one of their best non-blocking defensive performances of the season. As a team NSU recorded 100 digs in a match for the first time since the 2019 season.

Just a couple of hours after the tough loss to ULM, the Lady Demons were back on the floor for the weekend finale with Southern.

NSU was nearly unstoppable on offense to start the match. A handful of Southern errors early on gave the Demons the lead, one they ballooned to double figures with a 7-0 run with kills from Wesley, Gamble and Addison McDermott fueling the run.

The 18-7 lead at that point was more than enough for NSU to take the match lead, cemented by a 5-1 stretch to finish.

The second and third sets, however, played out much differently as the error bug once again hurt the Demons as the long week began to catch up with the swings in the middle part of the match. Down two sets to one after back-to-back 25-23 losses to the Jaguars, the Lady Demons rallied in the fourth.

After a kill from Wesley tied the set at 13, the senior took things a step further with a solo block for the next point and a combo block with Gamble to give NSU a two-point lead and inject all the life into the team. A 7-3 run moments later closed the fourth set in the Demons’ favor sending NSU to their second five-set match of the day.

The offensive efficiency returned at the perfect time as the Demons, running on adrenaline, totaled eight kills on one error in the race to 15, finishing with a 6-1 stretch to win the match.

“I was very happy that the team ended strong after a long week of several long matches,” Kiracofe said. “Southern was relentless on defense and fought hard. It took a lot of fortitude to push through to get a win under those circumstances.”

Wesley had her second 20-dig match of the day and third double-double of the weekend with 11 kills against Southern. McDermott set a new season high with 11 kills and Burrell led the team with 12 kills.

Gamble was named to the all-tournament team after her 26-kill, 10-ace, 16-block weekend.

The Lady Demons play their first home game of the 2022 season on Tuesday when they host Texas Southern at 6:30 p.m. in Prather Coliseum.

Photo: Randy Bergeron, Southeastern Louisiana Athletics