TWU has had an appetite for swift wins lately and is even more hungry for a strong finish to its season. On Tuesday at Kitty Magee Arena, the Pioneers’ 20th win of the season and their sixth consecutive sweep set the table for what will be the most anticipated match of their season Friday against first-place West Texas A&M.
TWU devoured Southeastern Oklahoma State 25-16, 25-20, 25-20 with senior Josie Santos leading the Pioneers with 14 kills. Santos had a .600 hitting percentage, while senior middle blockers Marcela Alves and Chloe’ Tate each had four block assists. Alves and Tate combined for 17 kills.
TWU senior setter Kayla Rivero and freshman setter Kimberly Bell dished out 18 assists apiece, and junior libero Morgan Wilson led the defense with 19 digs.
The Pioneers (20-8) will host No. 6 West Texas A&M (25-3) on Friday and finish up with Eastern New Mexico at home Saturday.
For Rivero, Tuesday’s nonconference sweep of the Savage Storm helped extend the team’s positive attitude and focus into the weekend.
“Each game we have to treat like a conference game or a big championship game, but this definitely helped us get in the right mindset to play Friday and Saturday,” Rivero said. “We just have to continue working hard and being focused.”
The Pioneers fell to West Texas in four sets last season. For Friday, TWU head coach Shelly Barberee is taking a new approach.
“We don’t talk about the WT match,” Barberee said. “You have to find the right balance with the team, and last time we made it a big deal. We went in and played like robots and it didn’t work out for us. So I’m not going to put so much emphasis on it and hopefully we’ll play more relaxed. They just don’t make mistakes, and when we start making errors, we get in trouble.”
Against the Savage Storm, the Pioneers didn’t get into too much trouble. After Santos’ kill to even the score at 8 in the first set, they put together a 7-2 run to claim a 15-10 lead and closed out the set on a 5-1 spree.
The Pioneers spread the offensive wealth in the 25-20 second set with four kills apiece from Santos and Alves and three apiece from freshman Mallory Kuechle, senior Jaqueline Santos and Tate. With the set tied at 6, TWU went on a 5-1 run. The Savage Storm climbed to within 19-16 but couldn’t muster enough of a comeback.
Southeastern Oklahoma (13-16) was closest to taking a set in the third, down just 20-19, but TWU flexed its muscles with another 5-1 run on two aces from Bell to polish off the sweep.
The Pioneers’ middle blockers were their mainstay again, taking an 8-4 advantage in blocks, but Barberee said the plays leading up to the blocks are just as important and often go unnoticed.
“They are our go-to players,” Barberee said of Tate and Alves. “They are both seniors, they know what to do with the ball and are our vocal leaders on the court. Our middles are really the backbone of our team, but they would be nothing without our setters, so our setters have got to get our middles the ball. We get on our setters every day to feed our middle, and as long as our middles are hungry, then feed them, because they are big kids.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.