After missing the Lone Star Conference tournament last season, the TWU volleyball team wasted no time in making a return to the postseason under first-year coach Jeff Huebner.
The Pioneers defeated Texas-Permian Basin on senior day Saturday to clinch the No. 6 seed in the tournament. The win secured a first-round matchup against No. 25 Angelo State at noon Thursday.
The matchup against ASU is an attractive one to the Pioneers because the teams split their regular season series. TWU defeated ASU in five sets at home before falling in a tightly contested road matchup later in the year.
"Of the top five teams, the team we played most consistently was Angelo State," Huebner said. "We beat them at home and then played probably one of the most entertaining volleyball matches of the year in a loss on the road. It's not a bad draw for us — I think we match up well."
The earlier success against ASU has the Pioneers feeling confident entering the postseason. TWU will rely on Miri Shade (265 kills), Katy Ranes (1,240 assists) and Bailey French (561 digs) to lead the way, and the return of Haley Collins from an injury adds depth to the lineup as well.
With a win against ASU, the Pioneers will play at 5 p.m. Friday against the winner of Texas A&M-Commerce vs. Western New Mexico. The championship game is set for 3 p.m. Saturday.
"If we go in prepared, I think we'll be in a good place," Huebner said. "I don't think there is a bad aura about Angelo for our kids like there is for other teams. We're committed to making a really good run here again.
"I think the things we can do well — if we can put them together — can make us really dangerous."
Pioneers set for home opener
After opening the season with back-to-back wins, the TWU basketball team is set to host its home opener at the Best Western Premier Pioneer Classic this weekend.
The Pioneers beat St. Mary's 69-62 and Western State 55-50 last week to jump out to their third consecutive 2-0 start.
Desiree Phipps stepped up and scored in double-figures in both games while Grace Mitchell, Alexis Nezianya, Whitney Apari and Bri'anna Gray all finished with more than 11 points in one of the two games to open the year.
"It was good to get two games under our belts and get wins on the road, which is a little more challenging than being at home," coach Beth Jillson said. "We had a lot of different players that stepped up, which is impressive as well."
TWU's balanced offensive attack provided a stark contrast to last season when the team relied heavily on then-senior Kenesha Saygo to score. By distributing the ball more evenly, the Pioneers were able to mount a significant fourth-quarter comeback against Western State after getting off to a slow start.
TWU also managed to convert on 16-of-18 free throws in that win, which was encouraging for Jillson this early in the season.
"One of our keys to every game is to get to the free throw line 25-plus times, so it's really key we make those free throws," Jillson said. "If we miss them, it's basically like a turnover and that's something we struggled with last year. I was proud we were able to step up and put them in."
Now, the Pioneers face the challenge of two in-region teams coming to Kitty Magee Arena this weekend. TWU will host Regis at 4 p.m. Saturday before playing Central Oklahoma at 4 p.m. Sunday.
Both teams qualified for the NCAA tournament last season and will provide a stiff test early in the season.
"We're definitely excited to play at home and excited for our fans to have an opportunity to watch our team," Jillson said. "It's two really tough games against two in-region teams, so it'll be a great challenge for us."