Nacogdoches -- In a match that held a strange vibe all evening long, Stephen F. Austin earned another straight set victory- their fourth in a row - over the Privateers of the University of New Orleans. In all, SFA has now won seven straight matches as their conference record improves to 5-0 and overall 2020-2021 tally is now 17-4. As a club, the Ladyjacks only committed eight attack errors in 100 swings posting a .320 attack percentage for the match. SFA has now hit over .300 in five of the 11 matches they have played during the 2021 portion of the extended year schedule.
Of the three sets of action, the first was easily the most competitive. SFA built an early 8-3 lead in large part due to two kills from senior middle blocker Taya Mitchell and an ace by junior setter Allie Hamsher. The 'Jacks came into the match leading the nation in total aces with Hamsher posting the 12th highest individual total in all of NCAA Division 1 volleyball. Hamsher went on to add two more aces in the match to run her team-leading total to 27. After the 'Jacks had the early lead, New Orleans scored five of the next seven points to get with two at 10-8 still early in Set 1. During the UNO mini-run, they got the benefit of two SFA ball-handling errors along with kills from middle blocker Diamond Holly and right-side hitter Alexis Parrish. During the middle of the set SFA would push out to a 17-12 lead behind a pair of kills from each of Leah Powell and Payton Cerny. Both Powell and Cerny stayed hot all evening as Powell wound up with a team high 13 kills against only two attack errors to post a .355 attack percentage. Meanwhile, Cerny sprayed shots all during the match from her signature line smashing kills to sharp angle winners that saw her tally eight overall kills hitting a cool .389. Late in the set, a kill by UNO's Trinity Jackson coupled with an SFA attack error - one of only three in the set - drew the Privateers to within three at 21-18.
However, two rallies later, UNO setter Lucie Pokorna jumped to swing on second touch and then landed on the top of the foot of teammate and libero Hannah Volpi. Replays indicated the play ended with Pokorna injuring her left foot. Pokorna stood several times, but then had to sit on each attempt at stabilizing herself and eventually had to be replaced by Kolbi Reed, a freshman who is listed on the UNO roster as an outside hitter. Reed functioned as the setter for the remaining portion of Set 1 and all of Set 2. Pokorna never returned and while UNO has a second setter listed on their roster, she was not in jersey at the match. Therefore, Privateer head coach Millicent Van Norden was forced to mix and match at quarterback the rest of the way. The injury occurred with the score 23-18 in favor of SFA and the 'Jacks would close out the set on a 4-0 run to finish things off 25-18. SFA hit .389 in the set.
With UNO struggling to find consistency without their setter, SFA built a huge lead at the beginning of Set 2. SFA raced out to an 11-1 lead, effectively dooming any chance of a Privateer comeback. While UNO would occasionally regather on offense, they would never get closer than seven points and SFA went on several long runs - eventually stretching the second set lead all the way out to 23-9. Privateer freshman outsider hitter Kai Williams tried to energize her club by knocking down three kills late in the set to create a more respectable, but still lopsided, final score of 25-14 in the second frame.
Up two sets to none, SFA again quickly built a big early lead in the third set. Van Norden mixed and matched again swapping out Volpi for new libero Sheilah Purcell, who had held down a DS role in the first two sets. Volpi then became the second half of a 6-2 offense featuring her and Reed attempting to run the offense. At one point near the end of the third set, UNO shifted one final time back to the 5-1 setup with just Volpi setting. Out of position, neither Reed nor Volpi could consistently get the Privateer offense going as the back row for UNO struggled to create consistent first contact down the stretch. Pokorna racked up 12 assists before exiting at the end of Set 1, but Reed and Volpi could only manage 13 between the two of them during the final two sets of the match. SFA's offense ripped through the third set posting a hitting percentage just a shade under .400 as the 'Jacks cruised to a 25-13 set win to seal the match.
Other than Powell's 13 and Cerny's eight kills, SFA got five from Ielan Bradley and four a piece from each middle blocker - Taya Mitchell and Ashley Procious. Maddie Miller dominated on floor defense picking up seven digs in set one, eight in set 2 and seven more in the final frame to end with a whopping 22 digs in just three sets. That effort got her season rate all the way up to 4.72 digs per set as she begins to close in on 1800 digs for her collegiate career. Ariana Pagan, who was able to rest periodically in sets 2 and 3 in favor of Kennedy Wright, was still able to garner nine digs in limited time. Wright picked up three errorless kills. Each club posted only three team blocks, with Bradley and Mitchell assisting on two each. Each Ladyjack setter - Hamsher and freshman Maddy Bourque dished out 15 assists.
UNO was led by freshman Kai Williams who racked up nine kills. Holly was next with six, and Shelby Pullins and Parrish each had five. Pullins was in on two blocks and the floor defense was led by Volpi who collected 12 digs and Purcell who scooped up 11 balls. UNO fell to 2-3 in conference play and 2-5 overall. UNO was never able to side out at better than a 48% clip as the 'Jacks stayed in control on offense the vast majority of the night.
SFA travels to Abilene to take on the Wildcats of ACU on Saturday. First serve will be at 1:00. The match will be carried on ESPN+ with the Wildcats providing the broadcast and SFAVolleyBlog Radio will be back in action from West Texas as I'll have that call for you here in this space. After the match in Abilene, SFA is off again for all of next week from competition. The following week is the university's Spring Break - at the end of which the club will travel to Nicholls and Southeastern Louisiana. Both of those matches will also be on radio here at the blog.