Above photo courtesy of the UMHB Athletics Department
ABILENE, Texas- Beginning its last regular-season road stretch, with three of its next four matches away from Belton, the No. 8 UMHB volleyball team had little trouble against McMurry and Hardin-Simmons on Friday and Saturday, notching consecutive sweeps.
Earlier in the week, UMHB head coach Mark Pryor had noted that the Cru, now 17-0, were not focused on the number of undefeated teams remaining in D-III volleyball. Rather, the Crusaders were focused on the present, and accomplishing their goal of qualifying for the ASC tournament. Pryor said 12 conference wins appeared to be the mark necessary for ASC tournament qualification; on Saturday, UMHB won its 12th conference match of the year.
Not only did UMHB’s 2-0 week likely lock the Crusaders’ spot in the six-team ASC tournament, set for Nov. 4-6, but also marked the Cru’s 17th straight victory in conference play going back to Mar. 20, 2021. Of all places, it was in McMurry’s Kimbrell Arena that the win streak started. It was also the venue in which UMHB suffered its last loss.
Competitive matches between McMurry and UMHB have become commonplace over the last several seasons, and Friday night’s 3-0 (25-18, 29-27, 25-21) sweep was no different. McMurry challenged the Cru in set two, mounting a 6-0 run midway through the set to take a 16-15 lead. The Warhawks widened the margin to 22-19 before the Crusaders scored four unanswered to reclaim the advantage. Kylie Metcalf, who finished with a team-high 13 kills, teamed up with Ella Brunson for the go-ahead block, and established her offensive presence with the final two kills of the set. With the two teams forced to play past the typical 25 points due to a tie at the 25-point mark, Kayla Janikula’s kill tied the score at 27. Metcalf then rose above the net for consecutive kills, sealing the set two win, 29-27.
McMurry took the lead on three occasions in the third set, its last lead being a 16-15 advantage. However, a 6-1 run from the Cru changed the course of the set, allowing UMHB to erase the deficit and claim a 21-17 lead. It was enough to notch the sweep, as a McMurry service error gave the Crusaders a match-clinching 25-21 set three win.
Metcalf, a senior outside hitter, posted a career-high in kills, and also tallied just two errors for a hitting percentage of .407.
She proved to be key once again in Saturday’s sweep of Hardin-Simmons, with six kills. Though the Cowgirls entered the match having defeated traditional ASC powerhouse UT-Dallas twice this season, the Cru had little trouble achieving the three-set sweep (25-20, 25-16, 25-21).
HSU did take an early 3-2 lead in set one, widening the margin to 15-10 after a 7-0 run. But UMHB quickly found its footing, as a Metcalf kill jumpstarted a 9-0 run for a 19-15 UMHB advantage. That was enough to give the Crusaders the set victory, as Janikula tallied two kills over the set’s final three rallies.
The Cru carried over some of that momentum into the second set, with HSU taking a 4-1 lead early, before UMHB put together a 5-1 run. The scoring run gave the visitors from Belton a 17-10 advantage and a kill from hitter Hannah Frasca closed out a 25-16 set two win.
It was a similar story in the third, and final, set, as UMHB hit .204, its best hitting percentage in any of the three sets.
The defense was crucial in each of the Cru’s sweeps, as UMHB tallied a total of 143 digs and 14 blocks.
“Our defense led us this weekend,” Pryor said in a press release from the UMHB Athletics Department. “The offense has done a ton for us most of the year, so it was nice to see us really dig in on defense and defend well.”
UMHB returns to Belton for a midweek, non-conference duel with Texas Lutheran on Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. CT. The Bulldogs enter the match with an 11-8 record, having swept Dallas on Saturday.