ABILENE, Texas- Call it an endurance builder, a grueling schedule, or an accurate picture of a team’s talent.
However you label the UMHB volleyball team’s four matches in a span of 25 hours this past weekend in Abilene, there is no question that it showed exactly why the Cru is ranked No. 4 in the nation.
UMHB defeated Hardin-Simmons in consecutive three-set sweeps on Friday night, before splitting Saturday’s doubleheader at McMurry.
The Crusaders had already faced both teams in doubleheaders this season, and did not lose a match to either opponent in Belton.
“We’ve alreayd played both teams so they know what they’re going to do,” said UMHB head coach Mark Pryor. “It’s not like there’s any magic formula, but it’s like, ‘They’re led by this kid and this kid, so we’ve got to make sure we block here, and do this and that.’ It is very small, minor things.”
The Cru executed the game plan perfectly against the Cowgirls of HSU, and won all three sets in match one with ease. UMHB used a 6-0 run to seal a 25-13 victory in the first set, and took a 17-8 lead.
A similar pattern was followed in the second set, as a 7-1 run midway through earned the Crusaders their largest set victory of the night, winning 25-10. HSU scored the first two points of the third set, but had no response to UMHB’s offensive attack, as the Cru won 25-15.
The Cowgirls made a run at an upset in the second match and kept the scores relatively close in UMHB’s three-set sweep. HSU responded to the Cru’s 11-5 lead in the opening set, and mounted a 5-1 run to cut the deficit to two. The Cru held onto the lead and narrowly won, 25-22.
UMHB earned a 25-14 win in set two before edging out the Cowgirls 25-21 in the final set. HSU trailed by one point, 20-19, before the visitors from Belton pulled away and earned the victory on a kill from Corinne Novak.
“Hardin-Simmons does some really good things,” said Pryor. “I don’t think their record is indicative of their level of play. I think they’re on the right track to be pretty good. We were just able to maintain composure throughout against HSU and that really allowed us to control the match.”
In a quick turnaround from Friday night to Saturday afternoon, the Cru showed signs of fatigue in the opening match against McMurry, and fell in a three-set sweep (19-25, 21-25, 23-25).
The loss in the first match was the second for UMHB on the season, and something Pryor partially attributed to scheduling.
“The person that should be blamed for the loss is probably me, and not the kids,” said Pryor. “I think that from a scheduling standpoint, we might have done better had we played at 5 and 7 p.m. That’s the big thing, there just wasn’t enough down time for us, and we weren’t quite ready to go in that first match, and it showed.”
The Cru rebounded in the second match, however, displaying a high level of resiliency as they captured a 3-1 win (23-25, 27-15, 28-26, 25-15) after falling in the first set.
“I think a lot of it was just staying calm, staying confident,” said Pryor. “Just the fact that we’re exhausted, we’re giving everything we got and just understanding that that’s enough. As long as we’re going as hard as we can, we’re in good shape.”
A win in that second match was especially critical, because, had the Warhawks earned the victory, both teams would have had an identical record of 11-3 and Concordia would have moved into first place in the West Division standings.
Several players stood out in the three victories, and none more so than sophomore setter Alli Pierce
“Alli Pierce has definitely shown some massive improvement,” said Pryor. “She’s probably better suited to be a defender but she she’s actually setting for us. She’s doing a good job with that. We ran a 5-1 in the second match today and she was able to produce. I don’t know that we’re going to stay with that, but it is one of those options we had.”
Pierce totaled 7 service aces, 50 digs and four kills on the weekend, as she played all 13 of the Cru’s sets.
With two matches against Concordia (8-2 on the season) on tap for Tuesday evening before the regular season finale against Howard Payne in a doubleheader on March 31, UMHB is focused on finishing the season at the same pace it started with, and strategically putting itself in a spot to win an ASC title.
“There were some good areas for growth [this weekend],” said Pryor. “The major thing is, would we like to host and we like to win the division? Yeah absolutely. But the more important thing is getting us ready to go for the conference tournament so we got a chance to win it. That means playing some different lineups and looking at some different things. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.
“I think where we are, because this is such an abbreviated season, we’re still in a discovery mode.”