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Notebook: Pioneers meet road challenge

Profile image for By Randy Cummings / For the Denton Record-Chronicle
By Randy Cummings / For the Denton Record-Chronicle

If the TWU volleyball team doesn’t have a theme song, it might want to consider adopting Willie Nelson’s classic “On the Road Again,” because that’s where the Pioneers have spent a lot of time this season.

But as road-weary as they may be, the Pioneers have withstood the challenge and proven they can win anywhere. They’ve played 10 of their last 12 matches on the road, but following two triumphant sweeps over the weekend are 13-3 overall and 7-1 in the Lone Star Conference. Six of those seven conference wins have come on the road.

And the road rolls on this weekend when the Pioneers visit Angelo State on Friday and Tarleton State on Saturday to wrap up the first half of LSC play.

Once the Pioneers return home, they’ll be able to unpack their bags and play nine of their last 11 regular-season matches at Kitty Magee Arena.

“I don’t think the girls even think about being on the road right now,” head coach Shelly Barberee said. “I just think they think about competing every time they step out on the court. And they don’t care what court it is.

“Their focus is to compete, whether it be at home or at Cameron or Commerce or wherever.”

The Pioneers will have played eight of their first 10 league matches on the road. The payoff is getting to play the majority of the second round of conference contests at home.

“We really don’t know what home is like,” Barberee said. “We’ve only been home for one [conference] series. But we knew that was going to happen and we preached that at the beginning of the season. Once we get through this first half of conference, then we’ll be home.”

Traveling to play two or three opponents each week, usually by van, has helped the team bond but also has created academic hardships. TWU makes many of its road trips in one day, meaning the athletes frequently miss classes, ride several hours to the game, play the game and then return home that night.

Scheduled study sessions in hotels help keep the players up with their classwork, but the schedule has been exhausting.

“They all feel like they’re behind in their classes now,” Barberee said. “And they feel like they’re lacking in sleep right now. They haven’t seen their roommates or their friends, and their social life is nonexistent.

“But the fact of it is we have to get through this portion of the schedule to get to the next.”


Rivero, Santos named LSC players of the week

Sophomore setter Kayla Rivero and junior right-side hitter Josie Santos have been named Lone Star Conference Players of the Week for Sept. 24-Oct. 1. Rivero earned the setter of the week honor, while Santos received the offensive honor.

Rivero earned the award for the first time. She led the team with 60 assists during the week and guided the Pioneers to a .255 hitting percentage or better in all three matches, including over .300 two times. River added 28 digs on defense and recorded a double-double with 23 assists and 15 digs at Midwestern State on Saturday.

Santos also received the honor for the first time. She led the team with 37 kills and 44.5 points while posting a .337 hitting percentage. Santos added 26 digs and seven total blocks, including four solo blocks, during the week. She recorded two double-doubles with 11 kills and 11 digs at Cameron and 12 kills and 11 digs at Midwestern State. Santos led all three matches in kills and has posted a team-best 86 kills against conference foes.

Rivero and Santos are the fourth and fifth TWU players to receive LSC weekly awards this season. Viktorija Jablonska was named offensive player of the week Sept. 11, while Chloe’ Tate and Morgan Wilson earned defensive honors on Sept. 18 and Sept. 25, respectively.


Will pollsters take notice?

With only one conference loss and three defeats overall, Barberee is ready to see her Pioneers receive some recognition in the NCAA South Central Region poll, if not the national Division II poll.

“I think we should be ranked,” Barberee said. “We have three losses, and two of the losses are ranked nationally in the top 15. And our third loss was to Mesa State and they just beat Adams State, which was West Texas’ only loss going into last weekend.”

West Texas A&M is ranked in the top 10 nationally and is the one LSC opponent to defeat the Pioneers this season.



First place in reach

As the first half of the Lone Star schedule concludes today, the Pioneers — off to their best league start in their 11-year history — have an opportunity to move into first place.

TWU (5-3-2, 4-1-1 LSC) faces the first of three road tests this week when it visits Texas A&M-Commerce (3-6, 2-4) today.

A TWU win, coupled with West Texas A&M’s second loss Sunday, would lift the Pioneers into rarified air atop the standings as the first round of league play wraps up.

“We’re having a lot of fun,” said Fleur Benatar, the only coach in TWU history. “We’re taking baby steps. I don’t want the girls to get too far into the future where they’re worrying about this or that happening. We just want to keep them focused.”

The Pioneers are undefeated in their last four games, winning three of those contests and settling for a scoreless tie in the other. The 4-1-1 start in LSC play betters the program’s previous best conference start in 2005, when TWU began 3-1-0.

The Pioneers edged Abilene Christian 2-1 behind senior Brittany Martin’s two goals — her second multi-goal game in her two-year TWU career — on Friday and battled to a scoreless tie with Midwestern State on Sunday. Following four straight home matches, the Pioneers now face playing five of their next seven on the road.

“We talk about the standings, but I don’t want to overload them with stats because stats can be here today, gone tomorrow,” Benatar said. “But we talk about where we are and what it means. We just take it game by game. I just want us to be better than the last game.”

After today’s game, the Pioneers travel to Angelo State (5-4-1, 3-2-1) on Friday before visiting Incarnate Word (3-5, 3-3) for a Sunday match.



Annual events upcoming

Two signature fall events for the Pioneers will be held Friday at Pioneer Field, including the third annual TWU Faculty/

Staff softball game and the team’s Hit-A-Thon fundraiser.

The game, which pits members of the school’s faculty and staff against this year’s team in an exhibition contest, will be held at 3 p.m. Following the game, members of the team will conduct a slugging contest to raise donations for the program.

Players and coaches have been soliciting sponsors for the Hit-A-Thon, which essentially is a home-run derby. The total distance of the longest balls hit by the participants will be calculated, with the sponsors agreeing to donate a per-foot amount to the program.

In the softball game, the faculty-staff team will include a pitcher from the current Pioneers’ roster.

Admission to both events is free.