The first home match of any season brings a certain level of intrigue and excitement. Those things get ratcheted up when the opponent is a four-time national champion.
For the first time in program history, Northwestern State will host a former NCAA national championship program on its home court inside Prather Coliseum when the Demons and UCLA Bruins toss the ball up on Monday afternoon.
“It’s a big deal to have them here,” head coach Sean Kiracofe said. “It’s a big deal to me and I hope that other people appreciate that as well. We’re not just talking about a Power 5 school but a national champion and a program that has some of the most championships in all of women’s volleyball.
“As someone that grew up with the sport, played it for years and has had it be a huge part of my life for many years, UCLA is synonymous with volleyball on both the men’s and women’s sides. So, it’s going to certainly be a cool moment for me to welcome them to our home court.”
The first of two home matches in consecutive days for the Demons is set to begin at 12:30 p.m. against the Bruins. NSU then hosts Jackson State on Tuesday night at 6 p.m.
There will be no charge for admission to either match and both matches can be seen live on ESPN+.
Both the Demons and the Bruins are coming off a weekend of play at SEC schools. NSU dropped all three of its matches in the StarkVegas Classic hosted by Mississippi State while UCLA split a pair of five-set thrillers in Baton Rouge against LSU. Both teams also enter the match still sorting out their strengths and weaknesses on the early season.
The Demons put up good blocking numbers across all three matches, no surprise with the return of freshmen powerhouse middles Reaghan Thompson and Jordan Gamble. The addition of Tessa Gerwig, who led the team in kills in each of the past two matches, and Teresa Garza have added more depth, athleticism and offense to a crop of talented options on the pins.
The main focus for the Demons as they enter the second week of the season is finding the consistency in first touches, either from serves or opponent attacks, that allow them to utilize the multitude of options available on the offensive end and use them effectively.
“We have the offensive weapons to make almost anyone in the country respect us from that stand point if we are in system,” Kiracofe said. “If we are in system we can put the ball away, we saw that in that third set against Mississippi State. That in turns makes the other team think about how to stop you instead of how they want to attack on their end or experiment with their offense.”
The Bruins, under first-year head coach Alfee Reft, pushed a talented LSU team in both matches over the weekend. They forced a fifth set after falling behind 2-0 on Friday and closed out a win on Saturday hitting .250 or better in each of the final four sets and did not commit an attack error in the pivotal fifth set.
UCLA has seven newcomers to the team this year, including a freshman setter in Ashley Mullen, that are joining with a group of experienced and touted upperclassmen. Pac-12 preseason first-team pick Anna Dodson and the Bruins top returning attacker, Iman Ndiaye, who each had over 250 kills a year ago, are the first two offensive threats for the Bruins.