STEPHENVILLE – Tarleton Volleyball has Division 1 figured out and they have done so in a hurry.
In the first year transitioning to Division I, Tarleton hosted TCU in a clash of the Purple and White and came out on top in a convincing 3-1 victory (22-25, 26-24, 25-20. 25-20) over the Horned Frogs on Thursday night in the Wisdom Volleyball Gym.
The Texans have found their momentum at the next level, having won three straight matches and six of the last seven to move to .500 on the season at 7-7 overall.
“I thought the girls really responded to the atmosphere and the opportunity to play a solid team, a big-name team like TCU for the first time at home,” said head coach Mary Schindler. “They were really excited; I think they might have started with some nerves and were anxious by not knowing what we were capable of doing, even though we’ve talked about it over and over again. Once they settled in, it was awesome to watch and I’m so proud of this team and their effort tonight.”
Tarleton outplayed the Big 12 member across the board, hitting .255 for the match while holding TCU to a .205 hitting percentage. Hali’a Swartman-Hogan, a former Big 12 player herself after transferring to Tarleton from Oklahoma, got revenge over her old conference rival with a match-leading and career-high 19 kills while hitting .341, also a personal best. Lauren Kersey followed with 16 kills on a match-high .520 hitting percentage and now has eight straight matches with double-digit kills.
“Hali’a does this every day in practice for us so we knew it was going to translate to the match,” added Schindler on Swartman-Hogan’s career night. “She’s such a hard worker, she’s relentless and truly beats us up in practice with how hard she goes. She finds ways to win and shows up every single day with that same energy and same work ethic. I was so excited to see that translate for someone like her to have that success.”
The explosive offense was led by setter Kayla Brannon’s 44 assists that topped all players in the match. The junior from Moore, Oklahoma also had 12 digs for her fourth double-double of the season and second straight performance.
As much as the offense shined, the Texan defense controlled the net against the Horned Frogs, despite going against a much taller opponent. The Texans posted 12 blocks to TCU’s three. Lorin McNeil led all players with six blocks, while three other Texans had at least three blocks of their own: Brianna Rhodes, Swartman-Hogan, and Kersey. The 5-foot-8 Brannon also had two blocks at the net. Libero Ana Costas, who won WAC Defensive Player of the Week back on Feb. 10, continued her stellar defensive play with a match-high 17 digs. Four Texans finished with at least eight digs, with Isabel Gonzaba and Matti Theurer each posting eight digs in addition to double-digits from Costas and Brannon.
In the opening set, TCU led from start to finish, but Tarleton rallied back from a five-point deficit late in the set to make it a one-point game on Rhodes’ kill, as she finished with five kills in the match. Despite falling 25-22 to start the match off, the late push grew the Texans’ confidence where they knew they could not only compete but win.
Tarleton rallied from a 19-13 deficit in the second set with an 8-2 run to tie the set at 21-21. TCU faced set point at 24-22, but the Texans stunned the Horned Frogs with four straight points on a pair of kills from Swartman-Hogan and Kersey to steal the set and even the match at 1-1.
“I think it was persistence,” said Schindler when talking about the team’s mindset to comeback in set two. “At that point, you feel the pressure at 24-22 and you’re thinking ‘don’t let the ball hit the floor, we have nothing to lose so go after the ball.’ Well, we won point after point and it starts to feel real that we can come back. The girls did a great job of being disciplined and saying this is working and we’re going to stick with it and do our jobs. In those final few points, they absolutely did that.”
The Texans needed another comeback in the third set after trailing 7-1 to open the frame. Tarleton scored 14 of the next 21 points to take its first lead of the set at 15-14 and never trailed again. A 7-0 Tarleton run extended the lead to 20-14 with kills from Amber Strange, Kersey and Brannon. Strange added nine kills to the Texan offense and also posted six digs. Swartman-Hogan closed out the set and gave Tarleton a 2-1 lead in the match on a kill from the right side.
Tarleton had the chance to close out the match early and it took advantage of the opportunity on its home court. McNeil’s kill midway through the set started a 6-0 Tarleton run to lead 15-9 and forced a TCU timeout. Swartman-Hogan pushed the lead to 20-14 on a kill and the Texans cruised to victory on Kersey’s final kill that gave the exclamation point on the night and the win.
Tarleton will have the rest of the week off before traveling north for a pair of WAC games at Chicago State on March 1-2.