With four consecutive wins in the books, the TWU volleyball team is hitting the road this week looking to put the finishing touches on the first round of Lone Star Conference play.
The Pioneers (8-9, 5-3 LSC), who sit in a tie for third place, will visit Texas-Permian Basin on Friday and West Texas A&M on Saturday.
"These road matches are really critical for us," TWU coach Jeff Huebner said. "We have kind of stumbled on a formula that has been successful for us, both in personnel and mentality. Road games can be tricky, but we're excited to have another go at it."
TWU's resurgence began after a straight-set loss to Midwestern State on Sept. 29. The Pioneers bounced back with consecutive road wins over Cameron and Dallas Baptist before knocking off Western New Mexico and Eastern New Mexico at home over the weekend.
The team got off to a slow start against Eastern on Saturday but responded with the help of some timely leadership from senior Miri Shade and sophomores Katy Ranes and Bailey French.
The Pioneers lost the first set 25-15 before winning three straight sets to secure their fourth victory in a row.
"We had a little bit of an assertion of demeanor from Miri Shade, who just decided that we were going to win that game," Huebner said. "Then there was some verbal direction from Katy and Bailey, the Copperas Cove friends, that really got everybody on board.
"That's exciting, because we responded well when we challenged ourselves."
TWU will look to carry that demeanor into this weekend's matches, beginning with UTPB. The Falcons (4-13, 1-7) have just one conference win, but the Pioneers know the game could serve as a trap before a big showdown against rival West Texas (10-8, 4-4).
That's something Huebner plans to discuss with the team, but not an issue that worries him too much. The Pioneers are focused on continuing to inch toward securing a spot in the LSC tournament.
"I think we care less about West Texas and more about improving every day and continuing to grow," Huebner said. "We're 8-9, which looks better than 9-22 did last year, but that's not our end goal. Our end goal is to qualify for the national tournament."
Pioneers look to recover in second round of LSC play
Despite sitting in sixth place and having just one LSC win to its name, TWU is confident it isn't far from turning the season around.
Pioneers coach Babak Abouzar said the team has played well but has struggled to put together the two halves needed to regularly secure wins in conference play.
"We've been in every conference game so far," Abouzar said. "It's not that we're necessarily playing bad; we just have to be more consistent and put those two halves together."
TWU will have its first opportunity to do so in the second round of conference play tonight at home against Texas A&M-Commerce, as the Pioneers look to avenge a 3-2 loss this season. After leading 1-0 at halftime, TWU was outscored 3-1 in the final 45 minutes.
The Pioneers then will travel to Wichita Falls for a matchup against Midwestern State on Sunday. Abouzar said the first game against the Mustangs was another that got away from his team.
"These games are crucial," Abouzar said. "We want to be able to get three points at home first against Commerce. They are a tough team, but we played them really well in the first half. Again, it was a tale of two halves."
With six games left in the regular season, the Pioneers have time to recover from the slow start to the conference schedule. But Abouzar said getting off on the right foot this time around is important.
"We just have to be able to finish," Abouzar said. "Our attacking presence is great. It's not a matter of a lack of opportunities — it's a matter of not finishing the ones we create. Our defense has played well, but a play here or there is costing us. If we can fine-tune those types of things, we'll do well."