STEPHENVILLE – Tarleton picked as good a day as any on Saturday to play its best match of the year as the 2021 season approaches the stretch run.
Squaring off with longtime rival Abilene Christian for the first time since 2012, the Texans lit up the Wildcats offensively and coasted to a four-set victory in set scores of 25-14, 23-25, 25-20 and 25-19.
The contest marked the first-ever meeting between Tarleton and ACU as members of the Western Athletic Conference in any sport. Tarleton has now claimed three consecutive meetings vs. the Wildcats on the volleyball court dating back to the previous decade when the both schools called the Lone Star Conference home.
The rivalry win spiked Tarleton’s record to 10-10 overall and 2-3 in conference play. The Texans have now won three of their last four contests – all of which have come at home. Tarleton opened a four-game homestand with a 3-1 victory over Lamar on Oct. 7 and swept Prairie View A&M on Thursday.
Entering the match, ACU owned a 44-10 advantage over the Texans in the all-time series. But in front of a full audience inside Wisdom Gym, Tarleton left zero doubt on Saturday as to who the better team was.
The Texans dictated the action at the net all afternoon. Tarleton landed 52 kills on a .306 hitting percentage while finishing with a season-high 12.5 blocks. The team’s hitting percentage was its highest clip in a conference game thus far.
Defensively, Tarleton limited ACU to a .212 hitting percentage and just two blocks total and forced 29 Wildcats errors.
The Texans set a litany of individual season-highs in Thursday’s win over PVAMU. Saturday’s collective effort opposite stiffer competition was arguably more impressive.
All five players who registered five-or-more kills had kill percentages above .300.
Carmen Kinsey turned in the most dominant effort of her senior year, tallying a season-high 17 kills against no errors for a .500 hitting percentage. The performance continued Kinsey’s sizzling offensive surge. She has racked up 39 kills over Tarleton’s last three games on a combined .521 hitting percentage.
Fellow Norman, Oklahoma native Lauren Kersey was not far behind. Tarleton’s season leader in kills connected for 12 of her own to go along with five block attacks. Kersey, who ranks eighth in school history in career kills, now needs just 10 more to reach 1,200 and move to seventh on Tarleton’s program records list.
Freshman Trinity Vinzant – one of four players to start in every match this season – chipped in seven kills and D1 transfers Hali’a Swartman Hogan (Oklahoma) and Elise Smith (Sam Houston) landed six and five, respectively.
Anchoring the Texan block was a familiar face to the folks who reside 90 miles west of Stephenville. Lorin McNeil, who transferred to Tarleton from ACU in 2020, paired a match-high six blocks with four kills in her first match vs. her former school. McNeil, a senior, continues to lead the WAC in total blocks with 81.
Kersey and Smith each had five blocks and Swartman-Hogan added four of her own.
Setters Kayla Brannon and Melina Maldonado, along with libero Ana Costas, again anchored Tarleton’s back row. Brannon dished out 21 assists to lead the Texans in the category for the 19th time this season while Maldonado matched her season high with 18. Costas, who ranks fifth in the WAC in digs per set (4.48), snuffed out 20 ACU attacks over the four-set affair.
Tarleton served immediate notice as to how the afternoon was to play out in the opening frame. The Texans’ first seven points all came via the kill, three of which came consecutively from Kersey, and the hosts assumed a 7-1 lead to force an ACU timeout. Four straight kills – two from Kinsey and one apiece by Smith and Swartman-Hogan – then capped a 6-0 run that swelled the Texans’ edge to 14-3. Tarleton doubled up the Wildcats again at 20-10 and slammed the door with kills from Kersey to take a 1-0 match lead.
ACU’s lone set victory was anything but rudimentary. The Texans again doubled up ACU – this time at 12-6 – to begin the frame. Tarleton maintained the initiative at 16-13 with three straight points after ACU forced its first tie of the afternoon. The Texans later led by three points at 19-16 and prompted a timeout from the visitors bench. The Wildcats rallied to tie the set at 20-20 and the teams then proceeded to alternate points to the tune of a 22-22 gridlock. ACU earned match point four plays later but its two-point advantage to close the set was its largest lead of the afternoon.
Tarleton controlled the net and regained its grip on the match in set three. The Texans racked up 11 block attacks and connected for kills on five of their final seven points.
Following a 5-5 tie, Tarleton nursed a five-point lead over the middle portions of the set. ACU evened the score at 17-17 but Tarleton – and Vinzant in particular – took over from there. The Decatur native bookended three consecutive kills around an ACU service errors to put Tarleton back in front at 22-18. A kill from McNeil got inched the Texans closer to set point at 23-19. Two straight ACU errors sent the match to a fourth-and-decisive frame.
The Texans ratcheted up the defensive intensity in the match’s final frame to close out the Wildcats. Tarleton held ACU to a .114 hitting percentage – its lowest figure of the afternoon – and forced nine errors.
Tarleton quickly built an 8-2 lead, extended it to 17-10 and effectively knocked out the Wildcats at 22-16 following thunderous kill by Smith from the middle block. A kill from Amber Strange and Kinsey’s final point of the afternoon then locked up match point.
Tarleton is now slated to make the return drive on I-20 twice in as many weeks. The Texans draw California Baptist and Dixie State on Oct. 22 and Oct. 23, respectively, in Abilene as a part of divisional crossover play within the conference. Tarleton and ACU conclude their season series on Oct. 30 in Abilene at the Teague Events Center.