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Notebook: Pioneers open strong

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

TWU’s season-opening weekend, which included a volleyball split against two nationally ranked teams, showed the Pioneers they’re capable of beating a Top 25 team while indicating there’s plenty of work to be done to compete with a top-10 program.

The Pioneers opened the 2013 season with a successful 3-1 road trip that included a five-game upset of No. 23 Adams State on Friday at the Hilltopper/Rattler Classic. TWU had less than 24 hours to enjoy that victory before getting swept by No. 8 Central Missouri on Saturday.

“It built our confidence beating one ranked team,” TWU coach Shelly Barberee said. “I also think it showed us that we have quite a bit to work on.”

TWU also defeated hosts St. Edward’s and St. Mary’s in the weekend action, which included two matches played in Austin and two in San Antonio. The road trip was the beginning of a schedule that has the Pioneers playing 12 of their first 13 matches on the road.

“It’s always hard to start off with two of the first four teams you play being nationally ranked,” Barberee said. “We played some tough competition and realized against Central Missouri why they’re the No. 8 team in the nation. With that being said, I think we played relatively well. I was disappointed we lost, but I wasn’t disappointed with our play.”

Against Adams State and St. Edward’s, the Pioneers dropped the opening set only to recover and win the match. The five-set win over Adams was highlighted by double-doubles from junior Kayla Rivero (28 assists and 12 digs) and freshman Mallory Kuechle (18 kills and 11 digs).

TWU downed St. Edward’s in four sets with Kuechle (12 kills and 11 digs) and Rivero (20 assists and 14 digs) again leading the way. Freshman Kimberly Bell helped spark a five-set win over St. Mary’s on Saturday with a 25-assist, 11-dig performance complemented by Chloe’ Tate’s career-high 21 kills at the net.

“Mallory did great in that first game,” Barberee said. “She was very good. I was very pleased.”


Tough schedule ahead

The Pioneers face four road matches this weekend at the Oredigger Volleyball Classic in Boulder, Colo., where they’ll play Grand Valley State and host Colorado School of Mines on Friday before taking on Western Oregon and Fort Lewis on Saturday.

TWU’s only home match of the month comes Tuesday when the Pioneers open Lone Star Conference action at Kitty Magee Arena against Texas A&M-Commerce. Then it’s back on the road for four tests at Arkansas-Fort Smith’s Mary Beth Sudduth Invitational on Sept. 20 and 21.

“What we’re going to try to do is focus on one week at a time,” Barberee said. “It’s going to be difficult on us, but I think with these girls, they know how difficult it can be on the road.

“If we take care of our job, it doesn’t really matter where we are. If we take care of our side of the court, it doesn’t matter if it’s here or somewhere else.”


TWU receives team academic award

For the sixth year in a row, the TWU volleyball team has received the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Team Academic Award for posting a team grade-point average of 3.50 or better.

In the 2012-13 academic year, the Pioneers had a cumulative GPA of 3.618, becoming one of 77 NCAA Division II teams to receive the award. TWU is one of six Division II schools to have received the honor 10 or more times.

Ten Pioneers posted GPAs of 3.50 or higher: Courtnee Davis, Janie Foreman, Erin Harman, Erica Humbach, Leslye Richmond, Rivero, Josie Santos, Torie Talkington, Tate and Morgan Wilson.



Pioneers off to solid start

A split on opening weekend and the fact that six Pioneers scored goals in TWU’s two games helped get first-year coach Babak Abouzar’s tenure off to a solid start.

TWU made its 2013 debut with a dominating 5-0 victory over Texas A&M International on Friday in which two freshmen helped spark the Pioneers’ first season-opening win in eight years.

And while the Pioneers couldn’t keep pace with No. 20 St. Edward’s on Sunday, there were positives to come out of the 3-1 loss.

“The scoring lets us know that we’re versatile and that we don’t have to rely on one person to score,” Abouzar said. “We’re scoring by committee — at least that’s been the case so far.

“I was pleased with some of our freshmen who had an immediate impact. That was a surprise — a nice surprise.”

Newcomers Alisa Velasquez and Gabrielle Larson scored their first career goals in Friday’s win. Second-year players Lauren Smith and Kayla Gorney also contributed goals, as did junior Emily Davila.

TWU outshot A&M International 20-3, and goalkeepers Lindsey Sisco and Ariana Morrison split time in the box — each getting one half — to register the season’s first shutout. Sisco and Morrison also played separate halves in Sunday’s game as Abouzar continues to evaluate their play in game situations before settling on a regular goalie.

“They’re still battling for that position,” Abouzar said. “We’re very fortunate to have two quality keepers. Both of them had quality games and made some great saves.”

TWU will be tested again this weekend when the Pioneers visit Ouachita Baptist on Friday and No. 23 Central Oklahoma on Sunday.

“We competed hard for 90 minutes against St. Edward’s and I can’t fault them for that,” Abouzar said. “The girls responded well. We had some players step up.”



Another Stidham joins TWU coaching ranks

First-year TWU head coach Genny Stidham and athletic director Chalese Connors announced Tuesday the hiring of Jerod Stidham, Genny Stidham’s husband, as the Pioneers’ assistant coach.

Jerod Stidham, who brings seven years of collegiate coaching experience to TWU, served as assistant coach and hitting instructor at Central Oklahoma from 1999-2002 before becoming the head coach at Western Oklahoma State from 2002-06.

Stidham posted a 108-82 record at Western Oklahoma, including the two most successful seasons in school history in 2003 and 2004. He coached three NJCAA All-Americans and four academic All-Americans.

“Jerod is a great addition to our coaching staff,” Connors said. “His strengths on the field, in recruiting and in the office will be a huge asset.”

Stidham earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies with a minor in business administration in 2001 and a master’s in education in 2003, both from UCO. The Stidhams have a daughter, Allie, and a son, Connor.