Whether the TWU Pioneers are scrambling for digs, towering for blocks or huddling after a point, they’re doing it with relaxed shoulders and smiles on their faces. It’s that winning approach that’s helped them rattle off four consecutive sweeps.
“When we make our errors is when we play tense or try too hard sometimes,” TWU coach Shelly Barberee said. “I try to keep them more relaxed because that’s when this team plays their best.”
On Saturday at Kitty Magee Arena, the loose, focused Pioneers swept Midwestern State 25-15, 25-21, 25-15. TWU senior Marcela Alves posted a team-high 10 kills and registered five blocks.
“[Heading into Friday’s play] I looked up national stats, and out of all the teams in the nation, we’re No. 6 in the nation [in blocks] and Marcela Alves is actually sixth in players in the nation, which is a big feat,” Barberee said. “We’ve never been that much of a defensive team when it came to blocks, but this year we have that and we are really on fire with our block.”
Senior Chloe’ Tate anchored the defense with a team-high six blocks, while sophomore Hillary Shaffer and senior Josie Santos, who had nine kills, each added four blocks. The Pioneers had 13 blocks to the Mustangs’ three.
Libero Morgan Wilson patrolled the middle of the court and led TWU with 15 digs, while setter Kayla Rivero recorded 17 assists and 13 digs.
Wilson said she’s noticed a change in demeanor during the Pioneers’ recent run after a few lackluster performances earlier in the season.
“We’ve been more relaxed and ready to go,” Wilson said. “We kind of had some slip-ups with [Texas A&M-Commerce] and some of the lower teams in the conference, and now we aren’t letting that happen.”
Barbaree she was impressed by Wilson’s determination.
“We were scrappy today,” Barberee said. “It was kind of crazy, but at least we were on the ground trying to get the ball, and that’s what we ask our kids to do. Morgan plays hard every time she plays, and every time we go out on that court, whether it’s a practice or game, Morgan Wilson is going to be giving me everything she has. They were serving her today — which I wouldn’t have done — but they were and she had great passes off serve-receives. She’s a player that wants to win every point.”
The Pioneers fell behind early in the first set but tied it at 4 before going on a 10-1 run to claim a 14-5 lead.
TWU used a 6-0 run to take a 6-2 advantage in the second set and a 5-1 run to make it 15-7, but the Mustangs rallied to within 18-16. TWU snapped out of its funk and finished out the set on a 4-2 run.
In the third set, TWU used two aces from Tate in a four-point run to take a 10-6 lead. Leading 17-13, the Pioneers closed out the match with a 8-2 run featuring two kills apiece from Tate and Santos.
The Pioneers (18-8, 9-4 Lone Star) will play their final road game of the regular season at 2 p.m. Saturday at Texas A&M-Kingsville. TWU then will return home for its final three LSC games, including a key matchup Nov. 15 against West Texas A&M.
“We need to hopefully continue playing relaxed, so if we win out, we should be good for the [conference] tournament,” Wilson said. “To win out, we can’t have any more slip-ups.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.