After losing a tightly contested five-set match to Tarleton State on Friday, the TWU Pioneers erased those memories on senior day as they defeated No. 9 Angelo State 25-21, 20-25, 25-21, 25-23 on Saturday at Kitty Magee Arena.
The Pioneers also broke the school record with 15 Lone Star Conference wins.
“[Friday] night was tough,” TWU coach Shelly Barberee said. “We were a bundle of nerves because the record was on the line. I told them, ‘If we break it, we break it and if we don’t, we don’t.’ We needed to relax, especially for the seniors. It was the last time they’ll be playing on this court, and that was our focus.”
Senior Viktorija Jablonska led the Pioneers with 16 kills and a .294 hitting percentage to go along with 18 assists.
Barberee noted Jablonska’s leadership and her propensity for filling up statistical categories.
“We don’t expect Viktorija to lead the team, but it has been happening a lot,” Barberee said. “We put a lot of pressure on her, but it’s not as much as she puts on herself. She’s a great all-around player and she is definitely the leader on our team.”
Chloe’ Tate and Josie Santos combined for 24 kills, with Tate racking up 11 key blocks.
In the first set, the Rambelles used a 4-1 spurt to take an 11-7 lead. The Pioneers responded with a 6-0 run, prompting a timeout by Angelo State coach Chuck Waddington.
TWU made it 16-12 with a Tate kill, but Angelo State battled back with a 7-2 run to take a 19-18 lead. A 7-2 run by the Pioneers capped with a Josie Santos kill gave TWU the set.
The Rambelles tied the match with their second-set victory. Angelo State held the lead the entire set. TWU used a 7-2 run to draw within 21-19, but the Rambelles finished off the set with a 4-1 spurt.
In the crucial third set, the Rambelles shot out to an 8-3 lead but the Pioneers countered to tie it at 11. Angelo State took a 14-11 lead, but the Pioneers stormed back to tie it at 20. A decisive 5-1 run for TWU was driven by two kills apiece from Tate and Santos.
“Our main thing was to stay calm and even when we had the break and we were even with them at 1-1,” Barberee said. “I thought, ‘We are fixing to get this game.’ Even if we would lose a point or two, we remained calm, and that’s a big thing in this game because momentum changes so quickly.”
After taking the 2-1 lead, the Pioneers looked to finish off the LSC’s first-place team and another tight set saw the teams tied at 11 and again at 15. TWU built a 21-17 lead, but the Rambelles rattled off four straight points to tie the game at 21 and it was even again at 22.
“We’ve only been to five sets twice this year and we haven’t done well in either one of them, so we didn’t want to go to five,” Barberee said. “I think we just had a good rotation that worked in our favor.”
With the set on the line, the Pioneers delivered the final blow with a three-point rally, facilitated by blocks from Jablonska, Tate and Courtnee Davis to seal the match.
“That was my last game, so that gave me inspiration,” Jablonska said. “We played as a team and we had so much energy. There is no way I could play worse, and I felt like everything was set up for us to win. We knew from the beginning we had to win. We worked so hard for it.”
The Pioneers now head to the LSC tournament at Angelo State, and Barberee said her team couldn’t have asked for a better transition.
“When you beat a team that’s only lost one game all year and it’s senior game and the last game on our court, you can’t ask for much more momentum,” Barberee said. “That’s the best scenario you could have going into the tournament.”