The TWU Pioneers learned over the weekend that sometimes "short and sweet" can be a good thing, especially when it comes in the form of a victory.
Twice last weekend - and for the first time this season - the Pioneers won in the quickest way possible, posting 3-0 victories over Arkansas-Monticello and Southeastern Oklahoma State in their Holiday Inn Express & Suites Classic at Kitty Magee Arena.
"They were so quick" joked volleyball head coach Shelly Barberee, whose team had made a habit of forcing its matches to full, five-game battles prior to last weekend. "But those sweeps were good.We hadn't done that yet this season, so that was really good."
In five of TWU's previous seven outings prior to the two-day tournament, the Pioneers had been involved in physically taxing five-game matches. So rolling past Arkansas-Monticello 25-11, 25-15, 25-11 on Friday and following that up with a 25-18, 25-19, 25-22 sweep of Southeastern Oklahoma State on Saturday was definitely something the Pioneers needed to experience.
"You're a lot more confident when you win in three sets," said junior hitter Viktorija Jablonska, who was named to the all-tournament team after posting 50 kills in TWU's four games. "We wanted it badly. We'd been talking about it, wondering when we were going to win in three. It's been one of our goals."
Barberee came away pleased with the team's play in the tournament that also included non-conference losses to Arkansas Tech and Texas A&M-International. The straight-set victories not only improved the Pioneers' season win total, but also came at a time when TWU is preparing for perhaps its toughest stretch of the season: playing six of its next eight matches on the road.
"All weekend we played well," she said. "We were able to work on some things and put in some different rotations. I think the kids were pretty relaxed and they knew we were working on some stuff. And we were trying to get some more W's, and we got two more than we had."
TWU returns to Lone Star Conference play this week. Following Tuesday night's home match against Tarleton State, the Pioneers will play six of its next eight matches on the road. Two three-match road trips will be broken up by home games against Cameron (Oct. 13) and Midwestern State (Oct. 15) next week.
Jablonska has outstanding week
What a week it was for junior Viktorija Jablonska.
Last week started off with Jablonska being named the Lone Star Conference Offensive Player of the Week after she helped the Pioneers split outings against Texas A&M-Kingsville and Incarnate Word.
Then came last weekend, when the junior hitter from Daugavpils, Latvia, was named to the all-tournament team at the TWU-hosted 2011 Holiday Inn Express & Suites Classic, in which she led the Pioneers to a pair of three-game sweeps and a split of the team's four matches in the tournament.
"She's playing like we know she can play," said head coach Shelly Barberee. "She sees the court so well. And she's getting more comfortable with the setters and they're getting more comfortable with her."
The 6-foot Jabloska, who transferred to TWU from Frank Phillips College, registered 50 kills in the Pioneers' four non-conference tournament games. Her effort came on the heels of her posting a career-high 20 kills against Incarnate Word earlier in the week.
Her recent performances put her second on the Pioneers in kills (168) and the team leader in kills-per-game average at 3.00.
"We saw her play like this on the junior college level and now we're seeing it on our court," said Barberee. "She's a heck of a player."
TWU garners NFCA Academic Team Award
The National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) announced the Top 10 Academic Teams, and the TWU Pioneers placed third with a 3.502 team grade-point average among all NCAA Division II teams for the 2010-11 academic year.
It's the highest ranking for TWU since the 1997 season when the Pioneers tied for second with a 3.305 grade-point average.The team GPA this year is best ever by a Pioneer softball team.
The Pioneers finished behind Central Missouri (3.533) and Lynn (3.526) in Division II and ranked first among all Lone Star Conference schools.Southeastern Oklahoma (3.360) placed second in LSC and 19th overall.
"With all of the awards my players and teams have won over the past years, this is the one I am most proud," said TWU softball head coach Richie Bruister. "We preach a team concept on and off the field and this is truly a team effort to achieve such a high honor. This team really worked hard to achieve above a 3.4, which is our team goal, and I could not be more proud of them for their accomplishments and the effort it took."
The Pioneers advanced to their second straight conference tournament in 2011.
Freshman shortstop Bailey Vrazel piled up numerous postseason honors, including NFCA First Team All-American, NFCA Golden Shoe, Daktronics South Central Region Player of the Year and Lone Star Conference South Division Player and Freshman of the Year. Vrazel also led all collegiate softball players (NCAA DI, DII, DIII and NAIA) in steals (74) and set a new TWU and LSC single-season record.
The Pioneers as a team also showed off their speed, stealing a school and LSC-record 180 bases.
Despite record, Benatar sees improvement
As the loss column grows for the winless Pioneers soccer team, head coach Fleur Benatar sees the team continuing to improve and is quick to point out that "nobody is throwing in the towel."
All she has to do is look back at last week's two games against Division II powerhouses and realize the Pioneers are still battling and getting closer and closer to tasting success. Last Friday against Abilene Christian - ranked No. 4 in the nation in Division II - TWU had a 2-1 lead in the first half before falling 4-2. Then on Sunday at Midwestern State, which fell out of the national top 20 the week before, the Pioneers dropped a 2-1 decision.
"We're improving every game," said Benatar. "We're scoring more goals and it's starting to come around. We've made some changes to how we're doing things and that's definitely been a positive. I don't know why it's taken so long, but it's coming together."
The Pioneers, 0-8-2 overall and 0-6 in the Lone Star Conference, had their most productive offensive showing of the season against ACU by scoring two goals. Also encouraging was the fact that the two scores came from players - Jillian Fuerman and Candice Davies - who were contributing their first goals of the season.
Unfortunately, the Pioneers' solid play has too often been countered by what Benatar calls "a few moments of disaster," where mistakes wind up costing TWU a chance at a victory.
"It looks worse than it really is," said Benatar. "I think last week really gave us more confidence in our ability."
Certainly, a return home to play five of their next seven games at home, beginning at 4 p.m. today against Texas A&M-Commerce, could also provide a boost in the Pioneers' morale.
Pioneers enjoying home-sweet-home
Finally, TWU gets to unpack and enjoy being home for a week.
After playing their last four games on the road, the Pioneers are back home for three consecutive Lone Star Conference games at the TWU Soccer Field. They host Texas A&M-Commerce at 4 p.m. today before rematches with Incarnate Word at 4 p.m. Friday and Angelo State at 1 p.m. Sunday.
All games will be at the TWU Soccer Field.
"It's always good being at home," said head coach Fleur Benatar. "It's a comfortable environment, you're not riding a bus and eating out in a restaurant. It's always positive to get back home"
Today's opponents, Texas A&M-Commerce, is wrapping up its own five-game road trip in which the Lions have gone 1-3 and been outscored 11-2 in their previous four games.