One could say starting off the volleyball season last weekend went better than expected for the TWU Pioneers.
Head coach Shelly Barberee went a step further, calling it “awesome.”
TWU blew through four opponents in its five-team Holiday Inn Express & Suites Classic to kick start the new season the best way possible — undefeated. The Pioneers’ 4-0 start is the best in Barberee’s nine seasons at the program’s helm and is a reversal of last year’s 0-5 start en route to a 13-17 campaign.
What made the weekend all the better was the fact that TWU didn’t lose a single set during its four matches. The Pioneers completed three-set sweeps of East Central and Arkansas-Monticello on Friday and then swept past New Mexico Highlands and Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras on Saturday.
“We had a rough start last year, so one of our goals this year was to get off to a better start,” Barberee said. “I really wasn’t expecting to not drop a set, but I’m certainly glad it happened.
“We had some players who stepped up and really did a good job.”
The four sweeps match the number of three-set victories TWU enjoyed all of last season. A year ago the Pioneers were more accustomed to playing in extended battles that went the full five sets, going 7-7 in those matches.
Returning senior and preseason conference player of the year Viktorija Jablonska started off where she ended last season — as the Lone Star Conference’s Co-Player of the Year — by leading the Pioneers at the net. She combined for 21 kills in Friday’s two wins, registered 17 kills Saturday and made a case for herself as a premier server with five service aces during the two-day competition.
TWU also saw immediate impacts from several newcomers, including transfers Marcela Alves and Courtnee Davis. Alves drilled 20 kills in Friday’s play, while Davis recorded a game-high 19 digs in the win over East Central and followed that with 14 kills in Saturday’s play.
“What’s different is our passing, and serve receiving was right on the mark,” Barberee said. “We were getting better passes so we were able to put more balls away.
“And we’re already communicating better as a team,” she said. “We were talking before the play and after the play, and I was really glad to see that.”
TWU begins the season’s longest road trip this weekend when it travels to Colorado Mesa to play in the five-team Holiday Inn Crossroads Classic. The Pioneers play their next seven matches, including their first three Lone Star Conference matches, on the road before returning home Sept. 21.
Coach has mixed emotions
In less than 48 hours, soccer coach Fleur Benatar went from feeling pretty good about her team to trying to stomach a game she believed her Pioneers didn’t deserve to lose.
On Saturday, TWU unveiled its new home-field lighting system by playing host to 15th-ranked Dallas Baptist. Although DBU broke out to a 3-0 lead before TWU’s Emily Davila managed the season’s first goal late in the game, Benatar was encouraged by what she saw from her Pioneers.
“DBU picked up two goals that were careless mistakes on our part,” Benatar said. “I thought we matched them pretty well. I saw some bright things — our energy and our creativity. We didn’t give up.”
On Monday afternoon, though, she watched the Pioneers thoroughly dominate Ouachita Baptist in total shots and shots on goal, only to allow a header goal off a corner kick with six minutes remaining that resulted in a disheartening 1-0 loss.
TWU outshot Ouachita Baptist by a 23-9 margin and attempted nine shots on goal compared to their opponents’ two.
“To me it seemed like they were waiting for us to score,” Benatar said. “We definitely kept the pressure on them. I thought we were the better team. I don’t think my team deserved to lose.”
TWU returns to action Friday with a nonconference game at East Central in Ada, Okla.
Davila’s wait ends
It was a longtime coming, but junior forward Emily Davila finally notched the second goal of her career.
Davila played in and started all 18 of the Pioneers’ games in 2010 when she was a freshman and scored one goal. But the Dallas native did not play last season before deciding to rejoin the team this year.
She scored in the 84th minute of Saturday’s game against Dallas Baptist to score the first and only TWU goal this season.
Open tryout scheduled
The Pioneers basketball program wants to see if there are any hidden gems walking around the TWU campus.
An open tryout for this year’s team will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at the Kitty Magee Arena in Pioneer Hall. Players wanting to participate must be currently enrolled at TWU and have remaining collegiate eligibility.
Participants must register prior to the tryout and provide proof of a physical administered by a licensed physician within the last six months. Those interested in trying out must return two signed forms — a Waiver and Assumption of Risk form and Medical History Questionnaire — to the TWU basketball office by Friday.
Both forms are available at www.TWUathletics.com. More information is available by contacting TWU assistant coach Michael Madrid at 940-898-2621.