Nacogdoches - The final score didn't do the Lamar Cardinals effort justice as SFA slid by in the first two sets before hitting a higher gear in Set 3 to claim a straight set win (25-22, 25-23, 25-18) on Thursday night in Shelton Gym. The Cardinals had chances to claim the beginning sets, but SFA found a way to stay in front down the stretch as a feisty Lamar club flexed its offensive muscle in the early going. The Ladyjacks came into the match only allowing opponents to hit at a .179 clip, but Lamar posted marks of .273 and .286 in sets 1 and 2.
Cardinals outsider hitter Kayla Neumann struggled with consistency, but wound up leading the match with 12 kills while falling one dig shy of a double-double. Neumann also committed nine attack errors and hit an inefficient .097. On the flip side, Ladyjack senior middle blocker Taya Mitchell has now only posted one error across her last three matches. Mitchell led SFA with 8 kills on just 11 swings to hit a robust .727 for the match. Overall, SFA hit .303 and Lamar attacked at a rate of .163 - in large part due a third set that saw Lamar's offensive efficiency go in the tank at they tallied more attack errors than kills.
The first set showcased different rotational alignments for each club compared to what they had used in previous weeks. For SFA, sophomore Kennedy Wright drew the start opposite OH Ariana Pagan, in the spot where freshman Leah Powell had been previously stationed. Wright and Pagan each settled into six rotation assignments for the match with Powell subbing in for front row duties when RS Payton Cerny rotated back. This left freshmen RS Ielan Bradley and DS Bryli Contreras on the bench to begin the match. For Lamar, freshman setter Hannah Waters started out on the front row, rather than in the typical left back serving position. The entire night featured each club mixing and matching personnel looking to get the right combinations of attackers and defenders on the floor.
In set 1, the right side attack of the Cardinals abused SFA time and time again with Malaysia Murdock and Neumann each getting several strikes on the right side with surgical precision. Murdock was especially hot early on as she was hitting .1000 through both sets 1 and 2. Neither team created much separation during the first set with Lamar playing surprisingly well on offense and giving SFA continual fits while the Ladyjacks never really looked in sync. Pagan was a bright spot with four kills in the opening frame and SFA held on to claim a 25-22 set win.
Set 2 saw Lamar race out to an 8-4 lead again with strong attacking all across the front row. But SFA went on a 9-1 run during which the Cardinals made several unforced errors. After the run, SFA had a 13-9 lead and the teams played a side out battle the rest of the way with Lamar closing to within one late in the set. Starting RS Cerny sat down as Head Coach Debbie Humphreys began searching for more offense. Junior setter Allie Hamsher began running the 6-2 instead of the set starting with freshman Maddy Bourque on the floor. This turning of the dial was also complemented by Humphreys inserting Coco Gillett on the right for Cerny trying to get that offensive spark. Gillett only played in Set 2, but wasn't able to find the floor on her four attempts. Nonetheless, SFA only made two attack errors in the set and held on by the minimum two points to go up 2-0 at the half.
Kaitlyn Gil had the best overall performance on the pins for Lamar as she consistently terminated balls during both sets 2 and 3. Overall, the errorless Gil had 8 winners on 14 attacks to post an impressive .571 attack percentage. The SFA offense finally got in high gear during Set 3 when Humphreys tabbed Bradley to enter on the right. She responded with 4 kills in 5 swings and provided the spark that SFA needed to race out to a big lead that they would never relinquish.
SFA kept the ball away from the Cardinals' new libero Sam Swayze as she only posted four digs in her three sets on the floor. DS Giselle Santini was better in defense and she more consistently dug to target and led her club with 11 overall scoops. Maddie Miller led the match for SFA and overall with 13 digs. Pagan finished with 7 kills and 10 digs, putting up numbers similar to what SFA has been become accustomed to which are just a handful of stat marks shy of double-doubles.
SFA out blocked Lamar 8-1 and was led at the net by Mitchell who posted five blocks. Ashley Procious assisted on three blocks. For the match, SFA committed only eight attack errors, remarkable given that the flow of the match never really saw the Ladyjacks offense dominate until the final frame when the 'Jacks hit .357. Instead, Lamar pushed SFA all night long and created a fair amount of trouble up front with the trifecta of Murdock, Gil and Neumann. Those three accounted for 27 of Lamar's 37 kills overall. Each team was a bit sloppy at the service line committing 10 service errors a piece.
The win raised SFA's season record to 15-4 and the 'Jacks are now a perfect 3-0 in Southland play. SFA is 8-1 on the extended 2020-2021 season in Shelton Gym. Lamar falls to 0-7 overall and 0-2 in league play. The 'Jacks continue the homestand on Saturday with first serve scheduled for 1:00 PM against the Cowgirls of McNeese. The match will be broadcast live on ESPN+. Earlier in the day, McNeese lost to Abilene Christian in four sets. McNeese will travel Friday to Nacogdoches with all eyes on the weather as a severe cold snap looks to settle into East Texas during the weekend.