Just because the sizzling TWU Pioneers volleyball team finds itself in the mix among the leaders in the Lone Star Conference doesn’t mean they are just now beginning to focus on the standings and possible scenarios for seeding in the league’s championship tournament.
Head coach Shelly Barberee said she’s used the Lone Star Conference standings and the league’s statistical rankings to help motivate her Pioneers (15-5, 9-3 LSC) all season.
“We look at them every week,” said Barberee, whose team sits in fourth place in the LSC as it prepares for the final two-game road trip this week that starts Friday with a visit to No. 7-ranked West Texas A&M.
“We’re always looking at where we are in the standings and where we are in the different statistical categories. I use that as a motivational tool.”
The Pioneers were a preseason pick to finish fifth in the LSC and now, as they have begun the second round of league play, they find themselves as one of the contenders for a regular-season championship and No. 1 seed in the league’s tournament.
With nine regular-season games still to be played, Barberee knows there is plenty of time for the Pioneers to push for a top seed. She also realizes how quickly the standings can change since earlier this season her team fell from first place to fourth in a 24-hour period.
“Our goal is to finish first, but it’s going to be hard with the way things have played out,” Barberee said. “But it’s still within reach.
In years past, my goal might have been just to get to the tournament, but this year it’s to go in as the No. 1 seed and try to win it.”
After playing West Texas A&M (16-3, 7-2) on Friday, the Pioneers will visit Eastern New Mexico (6-13, 1-8) on Saturday. TWU then plays its final seven regular-season games at home beginning next week.
Alves, Jablonska honored
Junior middle blocker Marcela Alves and senior right side hitter Viktorija Jablonska have been named the Lone Star Conference Volleyball Players of the Week for the week of Oct. 9-15. Alves earned the offensive honor, while Jablonska received the defensive award.
Alves and Jablonska both helped the Pioneers to two victories over the weekend against Incarnate Word and Texas A&M-Kingsville.
Alves earned the honor for the first time in her career. She led the Pioneers on offense with 32 kills, .491 hitting percentage, six total blocks and 35.5 points. She led both games in kills, including a career-high 21 against Incarnate Word. Alves also posted a .643 hitting percentage against the Cardinals (21 kills and three errors on 28 attempts) and then hit .333 against Texas A&M-Kingsville (11 kills and two errors on 27 attempts). She also led the team at the net with six blocks.
The POW honor is the second this season for Jablonska and sixth in her TWU career. She posted 18 kills, 12 assists and 13 digs against UIW to record her fourth triple-double of the season and then followed that with 11 kills and 10 digs against Texas A&M-Kingsville. Jablonska also posted a .323 hitting percentage and four blocks. For the season, she leads the team with 236 kills and .304 hitting percentage. Jablonska also has 135 assists, 141 digs and 42 total blocks.
Alves’ play key to success
Barberee hopes the play of Alves over the weekend is a sign of things to come.
Alves exploded for a career-best 21 kills in last Friday’s 3-1 match win over Incarnate Word, marking a rare double-digit performance by the 6-foot-1 middle blocker whose previous best effort in attack kills was 12.
She added 11 more kills in TWU’s 3-0 sweep of Texas A&M-Kingsville on Saturday to run her season total to 172, which ties her for second on the team.
“She was on fire last weekend,” Barberee said. “I hope it’s a turning point for her.”
Alves joined the Pioneers this year after playing two seasons at Panola College.
Lineup changes work
Two position moves paid off for the Pioneers in the form of a 2-0 shutout victory Sunday over Eastern New Mexico that snapped a four-game losing streak.
Head coach Fleur Benatar decided to move defender Erin Bolinger and forward Brittany Rogers to the midfield last week, and the shakeup in the lineup helped ignite the Pioneers’ attack. They outshot ENMU by an 18-5 margin for a win that got TWU back to .500 in the Lone Star Conference.
Prior to last weekend, Bolinger had been a mainstay in the four-player line of defense in the Pioneers’ 4-3-3 scheme. Rogers, who has battled minor injuries this season, has played exclusively up front as a forward.
“I really wanted to move Erin up in the midfield earlier in the year, but that would mean taking a good player out of the back,” Benatar said. “You’re gambling a little bit, but we really needed her presence in the middle.
“She’s really good at winning balls in the air. She’s tall, she can run all day, and she distributes the ball really well. So she’s got all the pieces that go in the midfield.”
Because of her injuries, Rogers’ playing time this season has been limited. But she’s healthy now and approached Benatar about helping the team out by moving to the midfield.
“She’s a small, scrappy player, so I just took a chance,” Benatar said. “And she was outstanding. She was winning ball after ball in the middle. She’s played great the last two games.”
Benatar plans to stick with the new lineup as the Pioneers play at Midwestern State (Friday) and Abilene Christian (Sunday) this week.
“They were both very natural in there at midfield,” he said of Bolinger and Rogers. “And they made a impact.
Deeb slows LSC leader
West Texas A&M’s Leslie Briggs is the LSC’s runaway leader in shots, goals and points, but she hasn’t had any success against TWU, thanks to defender Sara Deeb.
Deeb, a freshman from Plano East, was assigned the chore of shadowing Briggs in both of the games between TWU and WTAM, and Deeb succeeded in shutting out the conference’s top scorer both times.
Briggs got one shot off in Friday’s 1-0 win over the Pioneers and managed five shots without a goal in a Sept. 16 game (a 2-1 West Texas win).
“She is so strong,” Benatar said. “She’s a very physical player. She doesn’t get beat. She’s a warrior back there.”
Briggs leads the Lone Star Conference with her 90 shots, 14 goals and 33 points.