Tarleton triumphs over Eastern Washington in wild five-set affair in Wisdom Gym
STEPHENVILLE – Just three games into the 2021-2022 season, Tarleton women's volleyball had its mettle tested in full.
Indeed, after cruising to a 2-0 set lead over Eastern Washington in a Wednesday night contest in Wisdom Gym, the Texans were forced into a conclusive fifth set. The visiting Eagles nipped Tarleton in sets three and four by scores of 25-19 and 25-23 to make the ballgame a "first-to-15-wins" affair.
Yet it was the Texans who proved to have the guts in the nonconference tilt. The teams traded points to the tune of a 6-6 score early in the fifth frame, but Tarleton ripped off an extended 9-2 scoring run to seal a 3-2 victory.
Tarleton moved to 2-1 on the season and is now 12-5 in home-openers under 17th-year head coach Mary Schindler with the win.
Consecutive kills from Lorin McNeil made the score 8-6 in set five and ignited Tarleton's decisive surge. A touch-kill by Lauren Kersey maintained the Texans' edge at two before a trio of Eagle attack errors and a kill each from Kersey and Amber Strange forced match point at 14-7. Tarleton then cinched the win two plays later following a service error by EWU.
Kersey paced the Texan attack from the right side of the net throughout the evening. The Norman, Oklahoma native finished with season and match-highs in kills (19) and points (20). Not far behind Kersey was fellow outside hitter Trinity Vinzant, who turned in a career-high 16 kills – 10 of which came in the match's first two sets.
The duo along with Strange helped Tarleton deliver its best offensive set of the young season to begin the game. Two kills apiece from Vinzant and Strange staked the Texans to a 9-4 lead and forced EWU to burn a timeout.
Following a brief 3-0 EWU scoring spurt, Tarleton rode a 9-1 run to double up the Eagles at 20-10. Two more kills from Vinzant and Strange and Kersey's first of the night did the damage. Kersey then laced another kill home from the right side after the teams alternated points to seal the set win at 25-13.
Kersey now has 980 kills for her career in Purple and White.
Tarleton's .417 hitting percentage in the period was a season high in a single set. Defensively, the Texans limited the Eagles to just six kills of their own.
The early match momentum carried over into set two, where Tarleton broke an early 7-7 tie and rolled to a 25-17 set victory. Another kill from Vinzant led to a service ace from Ana Costas – her third of the season – after a timeout from Schindler gave Tarleton a 10-8 lead it never relinquished. The Texans then methodically picked apart EWU over the course of an 11-6 extended scoring run.
Costas anchored the Texan defensive alignment throughout the match as did Division I transfer Elise Smith.
Originally from Gurabo, Puerto Rico, Costas dug out a match and season-best 22 balls. Entering the game, Costas ranked second in the Western Athletic Conference in digs per set (5.29) while Tarleton was tops as a team at 17.57. Smith led all players with four blocks. McNeil finished with three while Strange and Vinzant had two each.
Eastern Washington built a 17-10 edge midway through set three. Tarleton crawled within two points at 20-18 before the Eagles closed on a 5-1 run to avoid being swept. The teams then alternated leads 10 times in the fourth set. The Texans held a 19-17 lead late but lost control of the edge on the scoreboard at 22-21.
The Texans rediscovered their offensive groove in the match's final frame. Schindler inserted Hali'a Swartman-Hogan on the left side of the net late in the fourth set. The former Oklahoma Sooner delivered a block attack to open set five and help Tarleton assume control. Tarleton assisted on five of its seven kills to close the match.
Senior Kayla Brannon again led Tarleton in assists with a season-high 36. It marked the second 30-assist performance of the season for the Oklahoman. The Texans are now 19-7 in matches in which Brannon records at least 30 assists.
As a team, Tarleton finished with 57 kills, hit at a .229 clip, recorded 65 digs and tallied 52 assists.
Up next is a weekend road trip to the west coast for a three-game tournament in Stockton, California. Tarleton will play a doubleheader against host Pacific and Pac-12 foe California on Friday before wrapping up versus UC San Diego on Saturday.