Twice in the last three weeks, the TWU Pioneers have faced regionally ranked Angelo State in volleyball. The outcomes say a lot about the location and circumstances of the two battles.
On Saturday in San Angelo, after a three-hour bus ride following a Friday night win at Tarleton State, the Pioneers (14-7, 6-3 Lone Star) lost 3-1 in an error-filled performance that left TWU alone in third place in the conference standings.
On Oct. 8 at Kitty Magee Arena, playing at home after a three-day break, the Pioneers not only defeated the then-No. 10 Rambelles but posted a stunning 3-0 sweep.
“Angelo is the same team it was; we weren’t,” TWU coach Shelly Barberee said of the different result from Saturday’s meeting. “We didn’t have a good match on Saturday. We had way too many errors. And in volleyball, the team that makes the most errors is going to lose.”
TWU entered its rematch with the Rambelles after a five-set slugfest at Tarleton State less than 24 hours earlier. Following TWU’s 3-2 win over the TexAnns, the Pioneers took a bus to San Angelo for Saturday afternoon’s clash
“I just don’t think we were focused enough,” Barberee said. “We had just won a five-setter at Tarleton, then — once again — it was more bus time. I just think we weren’t focused like we should have been going into Saturday’s match.
“Last time we played them we minimized our errors, and this time we had too many errors.”
A TWU bright spot from the weekend was the play of senior Josie Santos, who recorded consecutive double-doubles — a 17-kill, 22-dig effort against Tarleton followed by 11 kills and 13 digs against the Rambelles. Her 22 digs were a career high.
“Regardless of who [we’re playing], the errors we had surprised me,” Barberee said. “This team shouldn’t make this many errors. We’re too talented in our hitting roles to make that many errors.”
After this week, TWU finally gets to return home
After this week, TWU gets to play six of its final seven regular-season matches at home, and everybody involved with the Pioneer program can’t wait.
“We’re kind of in this period where we’re tired and exhausted, but we’re just now halfway through conference [play],” Barberee said. “We haven’t been home.”
Following a trip to Texas A&M-Commerce today and a nonconference visit to Dallas Baptist on Saturday, the Pioneers will have completed a brutal stretch in their schedule that had them playing as visitors in eight of nine matches.
To say that playing on the road so much — TWU has played at home just three times all season — is beginning to wear on the Pioneers is an understatement. They’re tired of airplanes, bus rides and hotel rooms.
“Not being at home is the hardest part,” Barberee said. “Every week you’ve got to get on a bus again. This week we have two more bus trips. It wears on you.
“But that’s not an excuse,” she said. “We should still go to those places and play at our level.”
The stretch run of the season will begin at Kitty Magee Arena on Tuesday against Tarleton State.
Early goals lead to losses
Giving up goals in the first five minutes of each game led to a pair of frustrating losses for the Pioneers over the weekend.
On Sunday against Midwestern State, which beat TWU 1-0 earlier this month, the Pioneers allowed the Mustangs’ only goal just three minutes into the game. The early score propelled Midwestern to another 1-0 victory.
On Friday at Angelo State, the Rambelles punched in their first goal five minutes after the opening whistle in what turned out to be a 4-1 victory over the Pioneers.
“It was just a loss of focus,” first-year TWU head coach Babak Abouzar said. “There was no mental concentration in the first few minutes of the half. It’s something we’ve talked about — drawing first blood and not getting stung first. It just comes down to mental mistakes.”
What makes the early-game miscues all the more baffling is the fact that the Pioneers have outscored opponents in the first half by an 11-10 margin this season. The 4-1 loss to Angelo State came after TWU had defeated the Rambelles 2-1 on Oct. 6.
“We talked about it after both games. We can’t let ourselves dig a hole so early in the game,” Abouzar said. “It’s frustrating, but hopefully with a week of practice it’s something we can get under control.”
Pioneers hold slim chance for conference tournament
Despite being in last place in the six-team Lone Star Conference, the Pioneers still have a mathematical chance to qualify for the conference’s four-team tournament set for Nov. 8-10.
Three teams, including TWU, have won just one conference game. The Pioneers’ five losses put them at the bottom of the standings, but TWU gets to play its final three regular-season games at home. Two of those games will be against the other one-win teams — Eastern New Mexico and West Texas A&M.
“We’ve played really well at home, and it feels good to come back home,” Abouzar said. “The three teams we’re playing are also in contention for the conference tournament. By no means do we feel out of the race. We just know we’re going to have to keep our intensity level up at the beginning of the games.”
The Pioneers will host Texas A&M-Commerce at 7:30 p.m. Friday before closing out the regular season with home games against the Zias on Nov. 1 and the Lady Buffs on Nov. 3.