STEPHENVILLE – A return to the City of Champions was just what the doctor prescribed for Tarleton volleyball.
Playing inside Wisdom Gym for the first time in 36 days on Thursday, Tarleton rode a buzzing home crowd, balanced offensive attack and fluidity from its back row to a 3-1 match win over Lamar in set scores of 25-15, 25-19, 21-25 and 25-20.
Five players landed six-or-more kills for Tarleton in the Western Athletic Conference tilt. Defensively, the Texans racked up a season-high 80 digs, forced 21 attack errors and limited the Cardinals to a .167 hitting percentage.
The victory marked Tarleton’s first WAC win of the 2021 campaign and snapped a two-game losing streak. The Texans upped their record to 8-9 overall while Lamar dipped to 4-12.
The extended road trip was the longest of its kind in duration in recent memory under 17th-year head coach Mary Schindler, who picked up career win No. 330 with the result. In total, Tarleton played 13 consecutive games outside of Stephenville. The Texans’ lone home appearance prior to Thursday came all the way back on Sept. 1 in a 3-2 victory over Eastern Washington.
But any feelings of homesickness were quickly erased come first serve.
A packed house served as an appropriate backdrop for the opening frame. Five kills spread between four players and the first of a game and season-high five service aces from Melina Maldonado quickly put Tarleton ahead 10-3. The Texans assumed their largest lead of the set and match at 22-12 behind a trio of kills by outside hitter Hali’a Swartman-Hogan. A pair of Cardinals errors and a nifty kill from the middle block by Lorin McNeil then tidily wrapped things up for Tarleton.
Swartman-Hogan tallied a season-high 10 kills in the match. The performance continued a strong surge of late for the senior. A native of Kilauea, Hawaii, Swartman-Hogan has finished with at least five kills in six of Tarleton’s last five games.
Lauren Kersey led Tarleton in kills for the fifth consecutive match with 13. The 5-11 outside hitter entered the contest ranked sixth in the WAC in total kills (174) and kills per set 3.28.
Tarleton spread the ball around with success throughout the evening. McNeil and outside hitters Amber Strange and Carmen Kinsey landed six kills apiece. Feeding the frenzy was Kayla Brannon, who assisted on 23 kills and dug out 13 Lamar attacks for her sixth double-double of the year. Maldonado added 12 assists of her own to pair with nine digs and her quintet of service aces.
Set two saw Tarleton ratchet up the defensive intensity and assume a commanding 2-0 match lead. The Texans held Lamar to a .045 hitting percentage. After consecutive service aces by Strange broke an early gridlock and gave Tarleton a 12-10 lead, Lamar landed just two kills over the remainder of the set. With the Cardinals offense stymied, the Texans upped their edge to 19-14. Lamar got within two points of Tarleton at 19-17 but three errors by the visitors and two more kills by Swartman-Hogan thwarted any prospects of a tie on the scoreboard heading into set three.
Strange and senior libero Ana Costas anchored the defensive alignment. Both players recorded season-highs in digs. Costas amassed 23 while Strange registered 13 from the front row.
The Texans appeared primed to post their first home sweep of the season midway through the third set. Tarleton led 14-12 at the midway point of the period. Lamar, though, fended off a straight set defeat with a 9-3 run to assume control of the set at 21-17 and did not allow Tarleton to climb within four points on the scoreboard the rest of the way.
The ship was quickly righted in the fourth-and-final set. Tarleton doubled up the Cardinals at 8-4 and later used a pair of 4-0 scoring spurts to build their largest lead of the frame at 19-12. Lamar crawled within two points of the Texans at 22-20 in a last-ditch attempt to send the match to a decisive fifth set.
Three straight Texan points closed the show in short order, however. Kersey landed a kill from the right pin off a no-look assist by Brannon to up the Texans lead to 23-20. Strange then knuckled home a kill from an improbable angle off a lengthy rally that sent the Wisdom Gym crowd into a fever pitch and forced match point. Lamar then committed one final attack error off a serve by Strange to cinch the victory for Tarleton.
Tarleton will not face the Lamar again until its regular season finale on Nov. 13 in Beaumont, Texas.
Up next for the Texans is a date with UTRGV at 1 p.m. on Saturday inside Wisdom Gym. Tarleton earned a season sweep of the Vaqueros (10-6, 2-1) to cap its debut Division I season in March.
Saturday’s match vs. UTRGV continues a four-game homestand for Tarleton. The Texans face Prairie View A&M and Abilene Christian at home on Oct. 14 and Oct. 16, respectively.