Tarleton proves DI mettle in five-set heartbreaker vs Texas State to begin Islanders Classic

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CORPUS CHRISTI – Even in defeat, Tarleton volleyball cemented itself as a fixture in the Texas Division I volleyball scene on Friday. 

The Texans pushed Texas State – which advanced to the Round of 32 of the 2020 NCAA Tournament – to match point to begin the Islanders Classic before falling 3-2 in set scores of 25-20, 14-25, 25-20, 24-26 and 13-15. 

Entering the match, the Bobcats were expected to dictate pace. Texas State upended a then-8-1 UTEP squad earlier in the day. Instead, it was the Texans who took control of the net. 

After falling behind 13-9 in set one, Tarleton evened the score four separate times before closing the frame on a 5-0 scoring run. The Texans laced home 12 kills – five of which came from Lauren Kersey – and took advantage of 10 Bobcat attack errors to earn set victory. 

The late-set surge was a microcosm of one of Tarleton’s better offensive performances 10 games into the 2021 campaign.  

Tarleton tallied match-highs in points (75) and kills (60) on a .266 hitting percentage. Kersey laced home a season and career-high 25 kills to the tune of 26.5 points to pace the Tarleton offense. The 25 kills from Kersey were the fourth-most in a match by a Western Athletic Conference player this fall. 

Fellow outside hitters Hali’a Swartman-Hogan and Amber Smith each chipped in seven kills and eight points while Lorin McNeil scored eight points of her own behind five kills and four block attacks. 

Strange now has 1,115 kills for her career and needs just three more to move to seventh all-time in program history. 

Feeding the Texan attack all afternoon were Kayla Brannon and Melina Maldonado. Brannon, who has led Tarleton in assists in every game, delivered the second double-double of her senior campaign with a 29-assist, 12-dig performance. Maldonado’s 16-assist effort marked the third consecutive game in which the Carolina, Puerto Rico native has assisted on at least 10 kills. 

The Texans left little to chance after dropping set two. Tarleton split apart a 4-4 deadlock with a 13-7 extended scoring spurt. Texas State pulled within three points at 19-16 but two kills in favor of Tarleton coupled with a service ace by Isabel Gonzaba and a pair of opponent attack errors thwarted any prospect of a Bobcat victory. 

Gonzaba’s service ace kick-started the closeout and was one of her match and career-high three. As a team, Tarleton finished with a season-best eight service aces. Two belonged to Maldonado while Brannon, McNeil and Emma Halcomb, who led the team with 21 digs in her second straight start at libero, added one apiece. 

Four straight kills – the last three belonging to Kersey – set Tarleton up with match point at 24-23 in set four. The Bobcats bookended a kill and a service ace in between a Tarleton attack error to force a decisive fifth set. 

Tarleton appeared in prime position to start its stay on the Texas Gulf with a win in set five. The Texans assumed an 8-4 advantage behind a service ace from McNeil and back-to-back kills courtesy of Strange and Kersey. The team maintained a multi-point lead at 10-7 and 11-8. 

Even after Texas State regained the lead at 12-11, Tarleton refused to go away. McNeil hammered home a kill from the middle block on the following sequence to knot the scoreboard. Kersey followed suit two plays later to make the score 13-13. Ultimately, Kersey’s 25th kill proved to be Tarleton’s last point of the afternoon. The Bobcats then claimed the set and the match with consecutive kills. 

Tarleton’s overall record dropped to 4-6 with the defeat while Texas State improved to 4-9.  

The Texans are set to conclude their stay in Corpus Christi with two matches on Saturday. Tarleton draws UTEP at 10:30 a.m. before closing the show vs. host Texas A&M-CC at 3:30 p.m. Tarleton is 3-2 in games coming off a loss this season. 

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