JACKSON, Miss.- Five matches. And UMHB has not dropped a set.
The Crusader volleyball team could not have started the 2021 season any better, going on the road, getting an ASC win over Belhaven before dominating at the Millsaps tournament on Friday and Saturday.
UMHB entered the week ranked No. 15 in the nation by the AVCA, but is likely to move up in the national rankings, having swept Belhaven, Millsaps, No. 19 Birmingham-Southern and Centenary in the span of three days.
“Today was a really good step for us,” UMHB head coach Mark Pryor said Friday night in a press release. “Winning on the road is hard, and us learning to not only function on the road, but flourish, is a big step.”
Behind 21 kills from senior hitter Kayla Janikula, the Cru opened the Millsaps tournament with a pair of victories on Friday. UMHB swept the Majors of Millsaps 3-0 (25-14, 25-19, 25-18) to open the day, paced by 11 kills from Janikula and seven from both Hannah Frasca and Sarah Grace Merry.
The Cru then capped off the day’s slate by overpowering No. 19 Birmingham-Southern, sweeping the Panthers by scores of 25-19, 25-18 and 25-14. Once again, it was Janikula leading the offensive attack with a team-best 10 kills, though Alli Pierce also contributed with 24 assists.
Defeating a Top-20 opponent was a step in the right direction for the Cru, and in a physical contest, the Crusaders matched Birmingham-Southern’s intensity. As they did in each of the other three matches, UMHB worked the ball to the outside especially well, giving hitters such as Frasca and Janikula numerous opportunities to strike and score.
“We played a very physical team in Birmingham Southern,” Pryor added in Friday’s press release. “It was a high-level match against a nationally-ranked opponent. We were very nervous at first, but as we got more and more calm, our defense, physicality and volleyball IQ really took over. It was a good win for us.”
Saturday’s action was much of the same, as UMHB knocked off both Huntington and Centenary in straight sets. In the third set against Huntington, the score was tied at three, then at seven, before the Crusaders embarked on a 12-2 run that sealed the team’s fourth win of the year.
Centenary proved to be a slightly tougher opponent, contending with the Cru for all three sets, though it resulted in another sweep for the visitors from Belton. UMHB’s tournament finale opened with a 25-17 victory in set one, followed by scores of 25-12 and 25-20 in sets two and three.
Frasca led the offense on Saturday, tallying 25 kills, including 15 against Centenary.
As key as the offense was in all four sweeps, it was the defense that guided UMHB to victory. Strong play at the net was critical, as the Cru tallied five blocks against Huntington and three against Centenary.
“It was a great start for us,” Pryor added. “But we have a quick turnaround from Jackson to Alpine in only a few days. We are excited about getting into the conference season.”
That quick turnaround means UMHB will have the ability to carry some of its momentum from Mississippi, as the Cru travel west for Tuesday’s ASC match against Sul Ross State, which begins at 5:00 p.m. CT.