Above image provided by the UMHB Athletics Department
BELTON, Texas- With a three-day turnaround, the UMHB volleyball team rebounded from the first loss of the season at Concordia on Tuesday to defeat Sul Ross State in back-to-back three set sweeps Friday afternoon.
“We’ve been really blessed to have had the success that we’ve had, and sometimes it’s not going to happen,” said UMHB head coach Mark Pryor. “It is how you respond that is the important thing. It could’ve gone one of two ways. They could’ve just wallowed in a little self-pity, but they understood and it was very workmanlike. They said, ‘We’re better than that, let’s correct these things and let’s kind of reestablish our identity.'”
The victories marked the midway point of the 20-match conference-only slate as the Cru move to 9-1 in conference play and hold sole possession of first place in the West Division.
“[After the loss to Concordia] we changed a couple things, tried to speed a couple things up, but slow a couple things down,” said Pryor following the wins. “It really helped our offensive efficiency when you look at what we were able to hit in both of those matches.”
The Cru hit an impressive .410 in the first match and came back less than 30 minutes later to hit. 299 in the second. Sul Ross State could not counter UMHB’s discplined offensive approach, led by freshman outside hitter/setter Hannah Frasca who had 25 kills in the doubleheader and junior outside hitter Kayla Janikula, who tallied 20 kills.
“We knew offensively that we would be able to cause them some trouble,” said Pryor. Both Alli [Pierce] and Maddie [Heibel], did a really good job of distributing the ball and moving it around. That was really good to see, for them to kind of spread the wealth around so we’re not having to give it to one kid multiple times. Offensively, it was better performance than we’ve had in a while.”
UMHB also had several defensive stands, one coming late in the third set of match two with the Cru leading 21-8. Despite what seemed like a surefire victory, the defensive intensity remained high, as Janikula and Kate Myles combined for blocks on back-to-back attempts from SRSU. The Lobos were limited to a hitting percentage of .184 in the first match, and just .084 in the second.
“I said there’s two keys that we’re going to work on, and the rest we’re going to play straight up,” said Pryor of UMHB’s defensive approach. “We were trying to triple block one of their hitters every time she was going to touch the ball. We held her to one of her lowest hitting matches that she’s had all year.
“The next thing we were trying to do was make sure we got our defense all the way out to the pin and then if that kid [from SRSU] wasn’t going to hit over the block, she’d have to hit around it. To go around it, it was going to funnel it right to Maddie Gillespie. She ended up having a really good bounce-back. Played really controlled and consistent today.”
Gillespie led the Cru in digs with 12 in both matches, and stepped up when her number was called.
The Cru hit the road next to face Hardin-Simmons in Abilene March 19. Following that doubleheader, UMHB will then play McMurry in Abilene on March 20. Two days later, UMHB hosts Concordia at home. It will be a daunting task, playing six matches in close to 96 hours, but Pryor feels his squad is up for the challenge.
“We’ll play Hardin-Simmons and then 16 hours later, we’re at McMurry,” noted Pryor. “That is four matches in a 24 hour span. That’s going to be difficult. We’ll come home late Saturday night, we’ll have Sunday off, practice Monday, play Concordia Tuesday. That’s insane, but it is the schedule we have.
“It’s going to be a step-by-step process of taking our time and figuring out, ‘Hey, what’s the next thing we’re trying to do’. We’re going to go out to HSU, see if we can get the 5 p.m. match, hopefully we can, then rest up for the 7 p.m. match. We’ll worry about McMurry next.”