CORPUS CHRISTI – The sting of defeat evaporated as quickly as a subtropical wind whistling along the Texas Gulf on Saturday afternoon for Tarleton volleyball.
Following a four-set loss to UTEP earlier in the day, the Texans closed out the Islanders Classic by upending host Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 3-1 in set scores of 25-19, 22-25, 25-20 and 25-20.
The win ups Tarleton’s overall record to 5-7 and was the team’s second true road victory of the 2021 campaign.
Carmen Kinsey and Kayla Brannon were named to the Islanders Classic All-Tournament Team following the final horn vs. A&M-CC.
Kinsey spearheaded Tarleton’s offensive blitz against the Islanders. The senior tallied a team-high 14 kills on the strength of a .353 hitting percentage. The Norman, Oklahoma native also led Tarleton in kills (10) and points (12.5) vs. UTEP.
Brannon was consistent in all phases of the game throughout the tournament. She amassed 71 total assists across three matches and notched two double-doubles. Brannon paired 17 assists with a season-high 13 digs against the Miners. On Friday, she delivered a 29-assist, 12-dig performance in Tarleton’s 3-2 loss to Texas State.
Tarleton 3, A&M-CC 1
A packed house and raucous student body inside Dugan Wellness Center didn’t deter Tarleton in its final match of the nonconference tournament.
In fact, players and coaches welcomed the electricity in the atmosphere and fed off the noise.
Following an attack error to open the match, Tarleton never trailed in the first set. The Texans split a 7-7 gridlock behind an 8-4 scoring run to assume control of the frame. The Islanders later got within two points at 21-19 but Tarleton took advantage of three A&M-CC attack errors to take a 1-0 match lead.
Kinsey and fellow Oklahoman Lauren Kersey each had four kills in the opening period. Kersey finished with 12 kills in the match and led Tarleton with 44 total for the weekend.
Kersey was also integral in a block that kept the Islanders off-balance all afternoon. The 5-11 outside hitter rejected a season-best five attacks and anchored the net alongside Lorin McNeil, who posted a match and season-high six blocks. McNeil continues to lead the WAC in total blocks with 48.
Set two saw Tarleton primed to gain a commanding 2-0 match lead. The Texans raced out to a 12-6 edge, prompting the Islanders to burn a timeout. After consecutive kills from Kersey and Trinity Vinzant upped the Texans lead to 14-8, A&M-CC landed 11 kills over its final 17 scoring plays to draw even.
But Tarleton left little to chance in sets three and four.
A 13-13 tie at the midway point of set three quickly transformed into a 22-15 Tarleton lead. Five Islander errors aided the extended scoring spurt before Vinzant and Hali’a Swartman-Hogan closed the set with kills via assists from Melina Maldonado.
Brannon’s 25 assists were a team-high while Maldonado added 15 of her own. Maldonado has enjoyed an increased workload of late. Her performance vs. A&M-CC marked the fifth consecutive game in which she has dished out 10-or-more assists. Originally from Puerto Rico, Maldonado has averaged 13.8 assists per game in that stretch.
The fourth and decisive set was perhaps Tarleton’s most dominant. The team never trailed beyond an early 4-2 Islander edge and later methodically manufactured a 19-11 lead. A&M-CC got within five points at 22-17 in a last-ditch attempt to extend the match but Tarleton scored on three of the game’s final six possessions to claim match victory.
The Texans 72 total points matched their season high.
The win was arguably Tarleton’s most impressive of the season. The Islanders (4-7) won the 2020 Southland Conference Championship and have earned NCAA Tournament berths in three of the last five seasons.
Tarleton is now 4-3 in games coming off a loss this fall.
UTEP 3, Tarleton 1
The Texans made the Miners earn every bit of their victory.
After dropping the first two sets by scores of 16-25 and 18-25, Tarleton outlasted UTEP in a wild third set in a 30-28 set win. The Texans then pushed the Miners (10-2) to set point in the following frame at 24-23 before ultimately falling 27-25.
McNeil racked up a season-best eight kills while Kersey and Swartman-Hogan each had seven. Swartman-Hogan turned in her most efficient offensive performance of the year. The Hawaian had just two errors on 13 swings for a team-best .385 hitting percentage.
Defensively, Elise Smith was again disruptive on the middle block. Returning to the starting seven, she finished with eight total blocks, which were a match-high and a single-game high from any Texan this season.
Brannon led Tarleton with 13 digs while Emma Halcomb added 11 of her own. Halcomb has started Tarleton’s last four games at libero and dug out 54 balls over the course of the tournament.
Tarleton’s extended road trip continues with a midweek twin bill in south Texas. The Texans meet Incarnate Word at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in San Antonio before heading to Houston for a 7 p.m. tilt against Texas Southern the following day.