The TWU volleyball team knew it needed two wins in three matches last week to have a shot at qualifying for the Lone Star Conference tournament, and the Pioneers posted a sweep over Midwestern State and a four-set win over Western New Mexico.
With two matches left in the regular season, the Pioneers (9-18, 5-13 LSC) are tied with Midwestern (11-19, 5-13) for the eighth and final seed in the tournament. TWU controls its own destiny and can clinch a spot in the postseason with wins over West Texas A&M and Texas-Permian Basin this weekend.
TWU holds a tiebreaker over MSU.
“If we come out with two wins this week, we’re in — no questions asked,” UNT interim coach Jessica Beener said. “We just have to go in this week and really focus on each game.”
In a do-or-die situation at the end of the season, the Pioneers have started to find a groove and are playing more consistently. TWU benefited tremendously from the return of senior Anna McGee, who missed a month with an injury. McGee was able to take some of the offensive pressure off of senior Sara Oxford, and the two combined for 32 kills in the key win over Western on senior day.
With just two guaranteed matches remaining in their careers, Beener is confident the team’s seniors will carry the Pioneers to a postseason berth.
“They are definitely the driving force behind our team right now,” Beener said. “The success that we’re having is definitely because of them, and they are being really strong leaders now and motivating our team to finish strong.”
In order to get to the tournament, the Pioneers likely will have to win at least one of their final two matchups. The team travels to Canyon on Friday to take on West Texas, and hopes to avenge a five-set Oct. 15 home loss to the Lady Buffs. TWU also lost in five sets at home Oct. 14 to UTPB.
The Pioneers feel more confident this time around with McGee back in the lineup. TWU is just 2-7 on the road, but Beener said the structure of this trip shouldn’t affect the team.
“We’re going to look a little different against them this time,” Beener said. “We’d love to be at home this last week, but luckily this travel won’t be too hard on us because we’ll be flying.”
TWU will get underway at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday, and the LSC tournament begins Nov. 17 at the first-place school. Angelo State (27-2, 17-1) holds a three-game lead atop the standings.
After opening the season with four straight wins and climbing to No. 15 in the country, TWU struggled with consistency before ending its season with a heartbreaking loss on penalty kicks to Angelo State in the LSC tournament quarterfinals.
Despite the disappointing end, coach Babak Abouzar said TWU overcame the adversity of several injuries on a young roster.
“I was pleased, especially with all things considered,” Abouzar said. “We beat some top teams, so we know that we can compete with anybody in our region. It’s just us being able to get up and play against opponents we should be able to beat. That’s what hurt us this year.”
The Pioneers will return a lot of young talent, with two first-team all-conference players in sophomore goalkeeper Samantha Jimenez and junior midfielder Chelsea Martin, and an honorable mention recipient in freshman Tivona Tinsley.
Jimenez was named LSC goalkeeper of the year after setting school records with eight shutouts and a save percentage of .857. Martin ranked third in the conference in total goals (seven) and fourth in goals per game (0.41).
“We’re in a great place,” Abouzar said. “It hurts losing some seniors, but I feel that we’re in a great place in addition to some new players we will have coming in. I’m real excited about next season.”
TWU made the short trip to the Super Pit to take on North Texas in an exhibition matchup Sunday, and hung tight with the Division I program in a 59-47 loss. Senior Kenesha Saygo, a 2015 All-LSC first team selection, led all scorers with 15 points and looks primed for another big season.
TWU will kick off the season at Midwestern State’s Ashbrook Classic on Friday against Texas A&M International and Saturday against Adams State.