Nacogdoches -- The Ladyjacks of Stephen F. Austin volleyball opened up the spring 2021 campaign with a four set win over Tarleton on Friday night. The 'Jacks improve to 9-2 overall on the elongated 2020-2021 season which bridges back to an abbreviated fall slate. Earlier in the day, Tarleton made program history with their first ever Division I win over Louisiana Tech in straight sets. Last year, the Texans made the jump from Division II and began membership in the WAC, the conference SFA is slated to join later in the year.
Despite having drawn the early match of the day, Tarleton showed no signs of slowing down in Set 1 as the scrappy Texans got kills from all of Senior Amber Strange, Junior Lauren Kersey and freshman Shelby Draker. A balanced SFA offense run by the duo of Junior Allie Hamsher and Freshman Maddy Borque slowly stretched the Ladyjack first set lead all the way out to nine at 24-15. But SFA found themselves struggling to close out the set. After a mini-run by the Texans forced 'Jacks Head Coach Debbie Humphreys into a late timeout, Sophomore Payton Cerny found the floor to give SFA a 25-18 win in Set 1.
Strange was too much for the SFA defense in Set 2 as the Texans hit a whopping .517 in the frame compared to just .028 for SFA. Time and time again, Strange was able to get crossing shots from the left pin to rattle down while the 'Jacks offense that had hit .412 in the first set grinded to a halt. Tarleton never let off the gas and cruised to a 25-15 Set 2 victory to tie the match at one set a piece at the half.
SFA made two huge adjustments going in to Set 3, the first of which defensively attempted to draw Strange into attacking down the line. Additionally, the floor defense was altered in order to thwart the Texan attack and better position SFA to dig up the attack from the left pin. The changes worked as Strange was held to two kills in the set after going off for seven in Set 2. The second major adaptation was to establish a more concerted effort to run more offense through the middle. Freshman Ielan Bradley was the benefit of the change as she terminated six balls in the set. The rest of the 'Jacks offense dominated as well and SFA tallied nineteen errorless kills in Set 3 while easily winning 25-8 to regain the match lead.
Tarleton was never able to answer back after that point as Cerny, Bradley and fellow freshman Coco Gillett all chipped in on offense. Sophomore Ariana Pagan had several key strikes in the set and SFA kept Tarleton backpedaling during the back half of Set 4. SFA was able to close out the final frame 25-15 and seal the four set win.
The 'Jacks hit a robust .373 overall while allowing a .266 hitting percentage out the Texans. The latter mark represented a higher tally than SFA had held opponents to during the Fall (.154) - an area that Humphreys emphasized needed improvement is post-match chats. Cerny paced the offense with 14 kills while hitting a stellar .407. Bradley was phenomenal on offense contributing 13 kills (13-2-23, .478). Pagan hit .381 and Gillett found the floor nine times while hitting .333. Senior middle blocker Taya Mitchell had six errorless kills on 14 attempts (.429) and Leah Powell hit .300 as all six SFA primary attackers achieved that hitting percentage or higher.
The 'Jacks struggled to block for points early in the match and got out blocked overall seven to four. Bradley had three total blocks to pace SFA. The back row was anchored by Senior Maddie Miller who scooped up 21 digs to lead the match. Pagan and Hamsher each fell one dig shy of double-doubles with Hamsher dishing 29 assists. The service game was one-sided as the 'Jacks tallied 8 aces (three a piece from Borque and Hamsher) compared to just one for Tarleton. SFA passed well in serve receive as Pagan handled 29 receptions without a return error.
Strange had 16 kills, Kersey had 11 and Junior right side hitter Carmen Kinsey had 10. Strange and Kersey each hit over .300. Setter Kayla Brannon had 30 assists for the Texans and Junior Libero Ana Costas led Tarleton with 14 digs. Texan Freshman middle blocker Brianna Rhodes led the match with four total blocks.
SFA is back in action on Saturday morning at 11 AM as the 'Jacks take on the Lady Techsters from Louisiana Tech. The match will be streamed live on ESPN+ and will wrap up the SFA Invitational. SFA heads to Houston and New Orleans next week as doubleheaders with each of the University of Houston and Tulane await.