HAMMOND – Northwestern State’s magical and historic run through the first two days of Southland Conference Tournament came to an end on Saturday afternoon in a 3-1 (25-21, 26-24, 18-25, 25-19) loss to top-seeded HCU.
The Lady Demons finished the season with a 19-13 overall record, 10 conference wins, numerous team and individual firsts and a huge burst of optimism for the future of the program.
“We played really well against the regular season champion,” head coach Sean Kiracofe said. “That second set just slipped between our fingers that would have evened up the match. We kept that going into the third to stay alive like this team has continued to do all year. Then we gave it our best in the fourth.
“I don’t have words to say how proud I am of this group, not only for what they accomplished this season, but for getting this program back on track to where we want it to be.”
After becoming the first team to play five set in their first two matches of a Southland tournament, winning both in reverse sweep fashion after falling behind 2-0, the Lady Demons got to Saturday’s drama much quicker.
NSU held a 23-30 lead in the second before the Huskies (23-9, 14-4) closed things on a 6-1 run to take a two sets to none lead in the match, finding its way to the pressure-packed comfort zone it has lived in the past two days.
As they did against UIW and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, the Lady Demons responded.
An early 6-2 run in the third created all the space the Demons needed to extend the match. A pair of kills from Breanna Burrell and another from Addison McDermott bolstered the run that made it a 9-5 affair. The teams traded points down the stretch with the NSU defense reading the swings of the Huskie attackers with elite precision, creating a snowball effect of hitting errors from HCU.
Four HCU hitting errors in the final five NSU points gave the Demons the edge to take the third 25-18.
The strong set was bolstered by a career performance from libero Ashlyn Svoboda who finished the night was a new career-high 32 digs, averaging an astounding eight digs per set on the day. She finished with nearly half of NSU’ dig total from the match.
The sophomore in her first season in the jersey had 12 digs in the third set alone.
NSU fell behind 9-2 in the fourth set, but quickly closed the gap on the heels of one of the many talented freshmen on this year’s team Reaghan Thompson.
Two kills and two block assists, with Madisynne McQueen and Symone Wesley, vaulted the Demons back to within two points. A 4-0 run later in the set, also spearheaded by freshman Jordan Gamble and sophomore Burrell evened things at 17, priming NSU for the chance at a third straight reverse sweep.
The veteran play of the Huskies and a pivotal challenge ruling in favor of the Huskies helped them seize the last shred of momentum to secure the 25-19 set and match win.
Wesley was the only player to reach double-figure kills for the Demons, picking up her 10th double-double of the season with 10 blocks. She was one of four players with six or more kills in the match. Burrell, McQueen and Thompson each had five blocks and McDermott closed her NSU career with her fourth straight double-digit dig match.