BELTON, Texas- There was a confidence evident within the UMHB volleyball team that reverberated inside the Mayborn Campus Center Tuesday night. Playing its first home matches of the 2021 spring season, the Cru left nothing to chance against rival Hardin-Simmons, defeating the Cowgirls in back-to-back matches to move to 4-0 in the season.
From the moment UMHB took the floor for warmups until the final point was recorded in the second match, the Crusaders had the advantage, with a quiet confidence that was clearly visible as the Cru went through its pregame routine.
That mentality heading into the contest translated flawlessly into the first match, which the Cru won 25-13, 25-10, 25-15. The first set was highlighted by a 12-2 UMHB run to take a commanding 22-10 lead. Though HSU would score three straight points, the Cru breezed to a first-set victory. The second and third sets followed suit, with the Cowgirls doing everything they could to hold back a powerful UMHB attack, but failing as the Cru played well on offense and defense.
30 minutes after the first match concluded, the two opponents took the floor once again. HSU, having had time to rest and prepare for match two, went up 1-0 in set one on a bad set by UMHB’s Alli Pierce, and took an 11-8 advantage soon after. But the Cru did not let it slip away battling back to take a 12-11 lead on a service ace by Kayla Janikula. The Cowgirls would counter, regaining a 17-15 lead before the Crusaders scored 10 of the final 13 points and won 25-20.
The work was far from over, as HSU would keep it close in set two, even cutting the UMHB lead to one, 21-20, in the midst of a 4-0 run. But head coach Mark Pryor’s team did not panic, and scored three straight times, two coming off HSU attack errors, and earned the 25-21 victory. By the time set three rolled around, the was little doubt that the Cru would earn yet another three-set sweep. The team powered past a tired HSU squad for a 25-14, match-clinching win.
In a performance such as this one, it was not one or two players that carried the load, but the entire team. Freshman Hannah Frasca was strong on offense, with 11 kills in match one, and seven in match two. Middle hitter Kylie Metcalf led the defensive effort with six block assists in the opening match. And Pryor was impressed by what he saw from freshman Sarah Grace Merry.
“I think Sarah Grace Merry did a really good job,” said Pryor. “We are asking her to hit on the left, hit on the right, hit out of the middle, play six rotations. She’s really asked to do a lot. She’s having to do multiple things.”
He was also encouraged by the performances from the senior duo of Adrien Valdez and Corinne Novak, who “led by example”. Valdez had 15 digs on the night, and Novak tallied nine kills, with just four errors.
“I really like what our two seniors did,” said Pryor. “Adrien came in, really made some good reads on defense and Corinne played really low error tonight. She slowed down their right side attack a ton. The older kids really got a chance to do their thing. They’re just leading by example.”
Playing at home provided perhaps the biggest advantage for UMHB, as a fair amount of passionate students created an racous atmosphere inside the arena, combined with a level of comfort for the team, playing on its home floor.
“I think there was an excitement level and almost a relief of, ‘We don’t have to go on the road, we get a chance to play here, and our family can come see us play’,” said Pryor postgame. “It was really nice for family, for friends, for fans, to kind of get a taste of normalcy.”
Another thing to consider was that UMHB was going on just two “decent” days of practice, due to the winter storm that left much of the Lone Star State without power last week.
“We thought we were getting back into it after Howard Payne,” said Pryor, “then we ended up having to shut everything down because of the snow for a little over a week. This was one where we only had about two decent practices before we played. I was very pleased with our overall team effort.”
The Crusaders are now 4-0 in ASC play and are tied with McMurry for the West Division lead. That knot at the top of the division will not remain for long, as the two will clash next Wednesday in Belton. The doubleheader begins at 5 p.m. CT.