Lady Demons set for challenging home conference weekend

After a long and in many ways challenging road trip that began one week ago, Northwestern State returns home for an equally as challenging home weekend beginning on Thursday.

The two teams picked to finished first and second in the conference at the beginning of the season make their way to Natchitoches for the Lady Demons’ (10-5, 3-1) first home conference weekend of the season.

If the Lady Demons were playing with confidence entering the most recent road swing, they have reached an entirely new level coming out of it. Three straight road conference wins will do that for a team.

One of the encouraging parts for head coach Sean Kiracofe is that the two most recent wins at UIW and McNeese, came as the team works through the adjustment to the new, but temporary, offensive system after the injury to setter Piper Boydstun.

“We’re still kind of in survival mode if you want to call it that,” head coach Sean Kiracofe said. “Until we get a little bit of time to settle down and get back into being able to train and practice situations, we’re in survival mode because you get a day and you’re right back out there playing. There is no time to break down different situations and what we ideally want to do, it’s all just kind of happening on the fly.”

Kiracofe credited Amina Attra for the way she stepped into the primary setter role and Addison McDermott for adding to her long list of positional roles during her NSU career as key pieces to making the transition in a short time frame.

NSU will have the opportunity to fine tune its situational approach following Saturday’s match with home-and-home matches with Nicholls on Oct. 6 in Thibodaux and Oct. 13 in Natchitoches, the only competitions during that time frame.

Until then, and even after, the Lady Demons have a true quartet of options on the floor that, more often than not, have produced when called upon.

Breanna Burrell, Symone Wesley, Reaghan Thompson and Jordan Gamble have all been the go to option at one point or another in the past two weeks, especially late in sets when NSU has to have a big point.

Against UIW, Wesley had five kills in the final set and Gamble provided set winners in both the second and third. Thompson held off three straight set points in the fifth set against McNeese, all with kills, and Burrell continues to pound the ball on a consistent basis with 14 kills per match in the past seven.

“We can count on any of them to do something good for us,” Kiracofe said. “My son asked me who had the best weekend and I couldn’t really give him an answer, because every match it was somebody different and everyone in moments stepped up and produced and did something.”

All four will look to continue that trend on Thursday as they take on the Islanders, who went winless during the pre-conference season but have won two of their first three conference matches thus far this season.

The 0-14 mark for Corpus prior to the start of the Southland play does come with the qualifier of having played some of the elite competition in the country including Texas Tech, Indiana, Arizona, No. 22 Rice and No. 3 Nebraska.

“They may not be quite as dominant as they have been the past two years but they’re good,” Kiracofe said. “They’ve got the best setter and best libero for what feels like 20 years now and they can produce along with a lot of other talent. They haven’t pieced things together fully during the beginning of the season, but they absolutely have the talent to do it.”

Corpus’ Carissa Barnes leads the conference with a 5.15 dig per set average and offensive setter Faith Panhans is third with 8.77 assists per set with a 1.69 kill per set average, the highest kill average among setters in the conference.

“We knew right from the start when we got the conference schedule that this second full weekend was going to be a tough one,” Kiracofe said. “We are happy to have it at home, but we know it’s going to be a challenge.”

Photo: Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services