In their final game of the regular season on Saturday, the TWU Pioneers faced Lone Star Conference bottom-dwelling Eastern New Mexico and showed in the opening set that Friday night’s loss to West Texas A&M was behind them.
The Pioneers slipped later in the match, dropping the third set, but regained their balance to win 25-8, 25-20, 23-25, 25-15 on senior day at Kitty Magee Arena. The win also gave TWU head coach Shelly Barberee her 191st victory, which tied her with Sandy Troudt for the most all-time in school history.
“It has nothing to do with me,” Barberee said of her feat. “Honestly, it has to do with the kids I’ve had here. Yeah, I’ve gotten some wins along the way and I’ve gotten the gray hair along the way, but all in all, it’s theirs because they are the ones that have been out there doing the work. It’s a huge accomplishment and that’s what a coach wants, so I’m proud.”
Barberee, who arrived at TWU in 2003, and the Pioneers are also heading to the NCAA Division II regional tournament for the first time in Barberee’s tenure. TWU (21-9, 11-5 conference) is currently sitting fifth in the regional rankings with the final rankings to be released Nov. 25.
“I’ve never been,” Barberee said. “It’s super exciting. I think the girls are pumped up. Obviously, if we play better teams, our level of play gets better. Our level of play is better. It’s an exciting time. This group of seniors is amazing. They’re talented, and I think they deserve it. I think we deserved it last year, but at least we got in this year.”
TWU senior middle blocker Chloe’ Tate has been around for several of Barberee’s 191 wins. In fact, she’s played every game in her four-year career at TWU and she thinks this year’s team has a shot to make some noise in the regional tournament.
“It was my goal coming in as a freshman to set a record at TWU, and I think being the first team to go to regionals is a cool thing to do,” Tate said. “That’s a thing off my bucket list that I can scratch off. This is the team to do it, honestly. I’ve never played with a better group of girls. They are some of my dearest friends. This is the year I think, so I’m pretty excited about it.”
Tate, who played at Ryan High School, was one of five seniors to play their final game at Kitty Magee Arena and had a team-high nine block assists as the Pioneers outblocked the Zias 17-7.
“It was very special for sure,” Tate said. “It’s been an awesome four years and just being able to play in my hometown has been awesome. People come out to support [us] and my family is always here, so it’s really good to have them here. It’s been really fun and a good four years.”
TWU jumped out to an 11-0 lead on its way to an easy win in the first set. The Pioneers then jumped out to a 19-10 lead in the second set before holding off the Zias as Marcela Alves finished off the comeback attempt with one of her 13 kills in the match in the 25-20 win.
Senior Josie Santos led TWU with 15 kills, while junior libero Morgan Wilson had 20 digs and junior setter Kayla Rivero dished out a team-high 20 assists.
The Zias (8-19, 4-12) woke up in the third set with a 25-23 win, but the Pioneers closed out the match with a convincing 10-1 run in the fourth and final set.
The Pioneers will now turn their attention toward the LSC tournament, beginning this week at West Texas A&M in Canyon. TWU enters as the No. 2 seed and will play Texas A&M-Kingsville at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
“We definitely have work to do,” Barberee said. “I told them, it’s hard to beat a team three times. With that being said, Kingsville beat us our first time around, so we don’t have to play them three times, and Angelo [State] beat us the second time around and then [West Texas A&M] beat us all around and those are the three teams we’d be facing potentially. If we beat WT [on Friday], you don’t win a trophy for that, but if you beat them in the finals, you win a trophy for that, so I’d much rather beat them then.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.