Abilene -- For the second time in the last week, an SFA Volleyball match took on a strange set of emotions as the Ladyjacks won a four set contest that ebbed and flowed among lopsided stanzas in the Teague Center on the ACU campus. Truly only the first set of the 3-1 win (25-21, 25-10, 18-25, 25-17) was competitive in what amounted to a bit of of let down in expectations between two teams battling for the rights to first place in Southland Conference play. ACU came into the match 4-1 in league play looking to move into the top spot if they could defeat the 5-0 Ladyjacks. In the end, SFA created a two game separation between themselves and the Wildcats by capturing the road win that upped their record away from Shelton Gym to 8-3 across the 2020-2021 season and 18-4 overall.
The first set lived up to what many expected to be a tight match. With SFA establishing an early lead, ACU played catch up all set long after falling behind 6-1. The Wildcats struggled to pass in the first few rallies of the day, allowing SFA to build a cushion that they would never relinquish. A kill by Wildcat outside hitter Katelyn Mueller and a pretty dump on second contact by setter Sarah Nading got ACU to within three with the score 10-7. But, ACU's passing inconsistencies continued and SFA got kills from Ashley Procious, Payton Cerny and two by freshman Leah Powell to stretch the lead back out to 19-13 during the middle portion of the set. The Wildcats had one last push to even things up by rattling off three straight points, which included a service error by the 'Jacks, an attack error by Ariana Pagan and then a kill by ACU middle blocker Brianna Box to once again get within three at 19-16. The Ladyjacks would trade points with the Wildcats down the stretch, get two kills and a block from Procious and a kill by senior middle blocker Taya Mitchell to close out the first set action with a 25-21 win. Procious was dominant all day putting together her best overall match of the year by connecting on a season-high 10 kills and assisting on five blocks.
ACU started off the second set with a plethora of attack errors that created a tone for one of the most lopsided sets of the Ladyjacks season. SFA raced out to an 8-2 lead as Wildcat right-side hitter Lindsey Toney, outside hitter Kate Blasingame and Mueller combined to make five errors early on and set their club way behind without SFA having to do much damage on their own. Procious and Powell then continued the onslaught they began in set 1 and Pagan dropped in an ace to make the score 15-5 mid way through the second frame. Mueller made a total of six attack errors in the second set and just about nothing went right for ACU the entire frame. After the Wildcats managed three straight points, two of which were on 'Jacks attack errors, SFA finished out the set on a 10-2 run featuring a rain of kills from Cerny, Mitchell, freshman right-side Ielan Bradley and Powell. In a metaphoric twist, 'Jacks libero Maddie Miller was credited with a set ending kill after playing a ball at her waist which flew over the set softly and landed between several Wildcat front row defenders. ACU hit a woeful -.208 for the set against SFA's .360.
At the half it appeared as though SFA was on its way to a fifth straight Southland match sweep. But, the Wildcats turned the tables in Set 3 as ACU head coach Angela Mooney sat Blasingame in favor of freshman outside hitter Emily Van Dyke. Van Dyke responded with three kills and ACU built as much as a nine point lead after going on a massive 10-1 run during the middle of the set. Mueller flipped the switch and racked up three kills and an ace during the eleven rally span. SFA dropped to hitting just .093 for the set and ACU committed only three attack errors in the set in a stunning reversal of Set 2. The Wildcat crowd of just under 200 got energized as ACU never let off the gas and despite the 'Jacks going on a 5-1 spurt near the end of the set, the Wildcats maintained control throughout and cut the set lead in half going into Set 4.
But, as they did in sets 1 and 2, the Ladyjacks grabbed an early lead in the fourth tilt. Kills by Procious, Mitchell and Cerny helped SFA grab a 4-0 start that expanded to 12-5 after a Wildcat service error and an attack error by Van Dyke. The crowd lost its energy and SFA put the poor third set behind them and throttled the Wildcats from the service line. At one point, 'Jacks libero Miller dropped in three straight service aces which were half of her total of six on the afternoon. Those three straight without a return proved to be the final dagger for ACU as SFA stood with a 16-7 lead. ACU made one final attempt at a comeback to get within four at 20-16, but SFA countered with four straight as the combination of Procious, Powell and Wildcat attack errors struck again. SFA closed out the final set on a 5-1 run.
Cerny consistently found the floor during each of the four sets to tally 12 overall to lead SFA. Mueller led all with 13 kills on 54 swings. The much more balanced offense of Stephen F. Austin saw four players post double-figure kills with Mitchell, Powell and Procious all finishing with 10 a piece. Freshman setter Maddy Bourque was impressive, posting a double-double with 30 assists and 10 digs. Along with the six aces, Miller scooped 16 balls to get within just six of 1800 for her collegiate career. Cerny tied a career high with six blocks. She assisted on all but one of SFA's team stuffs, often teaming up with Procious to force Mueller into a total of 10 attack errors. Mueller came into the match averaging 4.17 kills per set, but could manage hitting only .056 against the tough SFA front line. On a afternoon that saw Pagan struggle to score, she contributed well on defense by posting 12 digs.
After an off-week upcoming, SFA is back out on the road against Nicholls on Thursday, March 4 and Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday, March 6. The 'Jacks will be shooting for their 24th 20-win season under head coach Debbie Humphreys, who is closing in on 750 career victories. Both matches in Louisiana will be carried live here at the blog on SFAVolleyBlog Radio. The 'Jacks next return to Nacogdoches on March 18 when they take on Central Arkansas.