HUNTSVILLE – A spirited mid-match surge by Tarleton slowed Sam Houston but ultimately came up short as the Texans dropped a four-set affair to the host Bearkats 25-17, 25-12, 26-24 and 25-21 on Thursday.
Down 2-0, head coach Mary Schindler went to her bench and went small in an effort to right the ship in Tarleton’s 2021 Western Athletic Conference opener. The 17th-year coach turned to Amari Franklin and Matti Theurer opposite libero Ana Costas, who returned from a three-week injury absence.
The strategic maneuver paid dividends and temporarily turned the match on its ear.
Tarleton quickly doubled up Sam Houston 8-4 in set three behind two of Lorin McNeil’s match-high five blocks and one kill apiece from outside hitters Lauren Kersey and Carmen Kinsey. A service ace from Costas later made the score 10-6 and prompted the Bearkats to burn a timeout.
Costas, who entered the match ranked fifth in the WAC in digs per set (4.39), steadied Tarleton’s defensive alignment in her return after Sam Houston built its 2-0 edge behind a .410 kill percentage.
The Gurabo, Puerto Rico native tied her season-high in digs with 22. The performance marked her fourth 20-dig effort in eight full matches.
As a team, Tarleton landed a season-high 73 digs, with 10 each coming from Theurer and Kersey.
The Texans then played at their peak offensive efficiency to send the match to a fourth set. Sam Houston led by two points four times in the frame and as late as 19-17. Two kills from McNeil and one from Kersey evened things at 20-20.
Kersey, who was named The Grove Student Athlete of the Month earlier on Thursday, added two milestones to her illustrious career in Purple and White.
The 5-11 senior landed a team-high 13 kills to become just the 10th player in school history to reach 1,100 career kills. Kersey now ranks eighth on Tarleton’s career records list with 1,108 kills.
Perhaps equally significant was the work Kersey did in the other facet of the game. By reaching double-digits in digs, Kersey recorded the first double-double of her four-year career.
The two teams traded points to the tune of a 24-24 gridlock before a familiar face to the folks in Huntsville carried Tarleton a set victory.
Elise Smith, who spent the first three years of her collegiate career as a member of Sam Houston’s volleyball and track and field teams, landed consecutive kills on assists from Franklin to extend the match. The middle blocker’s first kill in the sequence was a powerful spike from the center of the net. Smith flashed finesse on her decisive shot, maneuvering a touch kill past Sam Houston’s outside hitters and onto open floor.
Tarleton hit .308 with 15 kills and six block attacks in the period.
Smith delivered an all-around effort in her return to the Piney Woods. She tied for third on the team in kills alongside Amber Strange with six along with three blocks for a total of 7.5 points.
Franklin’s effort in the middle was arguably the best of her senior campaign in Stephenville. Her 15 assists were a team and career-high. The Beaumont, Texas native eclipsed double-digit assists for the first time this fall and accomplished the feat in just two sets.
Rounding out the offensive attack for Tarleton were Kinsey and Kayla Brannon. Kinsey laced home 10 kills for the fifth time in her senior year while Brannon’s 13 assists marked her 15th double-digit assist effort in as many tries this season.
Despite bowing out in set four, Tarleton made the Bearkats claw for match victory. The Texans jumped out to an early 4-1 advantage and led 17-16 entering the stretch run in the frame. A kill from Kinsey later got Tarleton within a point at 19-18 but Sam Houston closed on a 6-2 scoring run.
The loss dropped Tarleton’s record to 7-8 overall and 0-1 in conference play while Sam Houston moves to 8-5.
The Texans conclude their extended 13-game road trip at noon on Saturday against Stephen F. Austin (11-3, 1-0). Tarleton then plays its first home game in more than a month when it draws Lamar at 6 p.m. on Oct. 7 inside Wisdom Gym. The contest kicks off a four-game homestand for the Texans.