Hammond, La -- SFA saw its nine game winning streak come to an end as the Lions of Southeastern Louisiana were able to get by the Ladyjacks in four sets (23-25, 19-25, 25-19, 23-25) in a match that saw SFA's offense sputter. The 'Jacks only managed to hit .155 for the match and had two sets of tallies under .100 in the attack percentage column. Southeastern Louisiana hit .173. SFA out blocked the Lions 10-5 including five rejections from Taya Mitchell and four each from freshmen Ielan Bradley and Ashley Procious. Procious upped her Southland leading total to 68 total blocks for the season.
Southeastern Louisiana improved to 8-3 overall and 6-2 in league play after the perfect week which saw them get three straight conference wins in a span of just five days. The Lions were coming off an impressive win against ACU on Thursday night and were able to carry that momentum through the four-set victory over SFA. The Ladyjacks record is now 19-5 on the season and 7-1 in Southland Conference play with four matches left on the regular season slate. SFA will host Central Arkansas and Northwestern State next week at home. Then, the final week of the regular season sees the 'Jacks travel to Sam Houston State before hosting HBU at home in the finale. All three home matches will be on ESPN+ and the match in Huntsville will be covered here on SFA VolleyBlog Radio.
The first set in Hammond today was full of service errors, especially early on in the match by the Lions. SFA was unable to capitalize as they played from behind for the vast majority of the set despite SLU leading scorer Kailin Newsome being held to just two kills. Peyton Cerny started off hot for the Ladyjacks racking up three kills early, the last of which had the first set score tied at nine. At that point the teams began trading points and at one point the Lions errored from the service line in three consecutive attempts allowing SFA to stay close without much effort from their offense. All in all, SLU committed a whopping 16 service errors in the match. SFA had eight service errors and only two aces to counter. Nearing the end of set 1, SLU was able to go on a pair of 3-0 mini-runs to gain an 18-15 advantage. SFA got within one after a block by Cerny and Mitchell on Newsome, but then down the stretch, SLU got kills from Crispin Adams, Jolie Hidalgo and a dump by setter Ariana Hebert to put themselves in position to win the set. An attack error by the 'Jacks Ariana Pagan gave the Lions their first set point at 24-21. SFA then tried to send it to extras by getting a big strike by Procious and then a kill by Pagan to bring it to within one at 24-23. But then, Newsome got a back row kill out of an SLU timeout to seal the first set victory for Southeastern Louisiana.
SFA's offense was in low gear for the entire first set as they got only nine kills total while hitting .079. To begin the second set, sophomore Kennedy Wright was inserted to try and add some spark to the struggling SFA attacks. Wright got three kills, but SLU's Newsome caught fire and thundered down nine kills in the set to bring her total to 12 at the half. The first portion of Set 2 had a similar script as that of set 1 with the teams trading points and neither able to create any separation. Then, with the score 13-12 in favor of SLU, the Lions went on a 5-0 run begun with kills by Newsome and Adams and ended with three straight SFA errors. From there, the closet SFA would get would be three points as Newsome continued her onslaught to give her club a 2-0 lead. The two set deficit was the first time in Southland Conference play this year that SFA had been down two sets at the half, In both sets 1 and 2, SFA was not able to maintain any long runs at the service line. SLU posted side out percentages of 73% and 80%, consecutively to thwart any attempt at SFA going on its patented service line runs the club has become accustomed to while leading the nation in total aces for 2020-2021.
To begin the third set, 'Jacks head coach Debbie Humphreys tabbed Coco Gillett to play six rotations while also turning the dial starting off with setter Allie Hamsher and right-side Bradley on the floor first rather than Maddy Bourque and Cerny. Gillett responded as down the stretch of the match she posted seven kills and 12 digs falling just three kills shy of a double-double despite only playing two sets.
It was the defense at the end of Set 3 that gave SFA a jolt of energy. However, prior to that, Hamsher went on the 'Jacks first and only long service hold of the match. With SLU leading 15-13, Hamsher served seven times to give SFA a nice cushion going into the final portion of the set. Then, the block party got started for SFA as Procious and Bradley teamed up on an Addison Vedrine attack for a tandem block and then Mitchell and Gillett stuffed Hidalgo on a right-side attack to give SFA set point. SFA polished off set 3 with another block - this time by Powell and Bradley. Cutting the SLU set lead to 2-1, SFA had a lot of momentum going into Set 4.
As with the first two frames, Set 4 was tightly played with the teams being tied a total of 14 times in the set. The middle portion of the set was particularly see-saw with the clubs being tied at each of 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 points. At 15-15, SLU got two straight on kills by Adams and a solo block by senior Ryan Maddera. The teams traded points thereafter and SLU maintained their two point lead at 21-19. Then, SFA caught fire and rattled off four straight points to briefly turn the tide and threaten to send the match to a decisive fifth set. Taya Mitchell got a kill and then a block to tie the score and then SFA went ahead on a kill by Leah Powell followed by an attack error by Maddera. At that point, SFA led 23-21.
But then the match took a final twist as SLU followed with four points of their own to close out the final frame 25-23. SLU's Sam Gomez got a one-on-one kill in the middle followed by a Maddera strike on the left side. Powell then errored to set up match point. The final rally went long and saw SFA have several chances to cut the lead back to one, but none of the 'Jacks swings were particularly solid and that gave Maddera a chance to rattle the final kill of the match off the block to complete the upset.
Overall, SLU was led by Newsome who put up a double-double with a match leading 17 kills to go along with 12 digs. Jolie Hidalgo also posted a double-double killing 11 balls and digging 10. Adams chipped in 10 kills, Gomez had 7 and Maddera six. Lions setter Ariana Hebert finished with 31 assists and SLU's second setter in the 6-2 offense Cali Collins contributed 14. SLU got 25 digs from libero Ansley Tullis, many of which came in the final two sets of the match. At the half, Lizzy Low led SLU in digs and she finished with 16.
No one in Ladyjack purple finished in double figures in kills with Cerny having the highest tally at nine. Each of Taya Mitchell and Leah Powell had 8 terminations and each of Procious and Gillett threw down seven. Mitchell was errorless and hit .381 to keep her overall league leading attack percentage for the year at .388. Procious hit .333 and Cerny .250. Maddie Miller finished the week with a 33 dig performance giving her 56 for the week in just seven sets (8.00 digs per set). Gillett's 12 digs were followed by eight a piece from Bourque and freshman Bryli Contreras. Bourque dished out 25 assists and Hamsher added 15.
SFA returns to action on Thursday, March 18 hosting Central Arkansas with first serve scheduled for 6:30. I'll have the play-by-play and Brittany Castledine will be back alongside for the ESPN+ broadcast.