Tarleton sweeps Dixie State in gutsy effort, earns third win in its last four tries

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ABILENE – In a match that featured 30 ties, 13 lead changes and an instant classic of a second set, Tarleton came away with a gritty sweep of Dixie State on Saturday in set scores of 25-16, 36-34 and 25-23. 

The straight set win was Tarleton’s fourth sweep of the fall. The Texans (11-11, 3-3 WAC) have now won three of their last four contests, two of which have come against WAC competition. Tarleton’s first-and-only meeting with Dixie State on Saturday counted as a neutral site affair as a part of divisional crossover play within the conference. 

With the win, the Texans are in prime position to spike their record over .500 for the second time this season. Tarleton next draws Incarnate Word (8-15), whom it defeated in four sets on Sept. 22, on Tuesday inside Wisdom Gym. 

Tarleton’s guts were on full display in Saturday’s epic second set. 

The 70 combined points scored were the most a single set in a Western Athletic Conference match this season. It marked the highest scoring frame in Texan volleyball history since 2012, when Tarleton and Texas Women’s played to a 33-31 opening set in an eventual win in favor of Purple and White.  

In total, the Texans and Trailblazers combined to alternate leads eight times and knotted the scoreboard at 21 separate junctures. Tarleton faced set point on five occasions. 

The marathon, however, was one point shy of ceasing to transpire. 

Following an 18-18 deadlock, Tarleton scored on five of the ensuing seven plays to put itself in position for set point at 24-20. The Trailblazers, though, bookended three kills around a Tarleton error to kick off the ensuing madness. 

Tarleton then earned three consecutive set point chances at 26-25, 27-26 and 28-27 behind a block from Lorin McNeil and kills by Lauren Kersey and Amber Strange, respectively. Dixie State answered with two points of its own but consecutive kills by Kersey, who landed a match-high 17, helped Tarleton ward off set point in favor of the Trailblazers. The teams alternated points over the ensuing eight plays, forcing Tarleton to battle through four more Dixie State set point opportunities at 31-30, 32-31, 33-32 and 34-33.  

From there, Tarleton answered with a decisive blow that turned the tide in the match. An attack error by Dixie State evened the score and returned possession to the Texans. Kayla Brannon (25 assists, 13 digs) fed Elise Smith on the middle block for a kill to put Tarleton ahead for good at 35-34 before lofting a pass to the left pin for Strange, who hammered home set point and staked Tarleton to a 2-0 match lead. 

Tarleton enjoyed a far smoother sail in the opening frame. After quickly opening up a 10-3 advantage, the Texans led by seven-or-more points for the remainder of the period. Tarleton swelled the score to 16-9, maintained a nine-point lead – its largest of the afternoon – at 19-10 and scored the final three points in the period to sew up the win. 

Ball and serve control spelled set victory. The Trailblazers committed 12 errors while the Texans had just two of their own.  

Free points proved to be a reoccurring theme throughout the tilt. Dixie State landed 52 kills to Tarleton’s 47 and had the edge in assists (50-43) and digs (80-71) but was snakebitten with 11 giveaways in set two and 26 for the match.  

The third-and-final frame saw Tarleton earn its sweep in full.  

Dixie State showed no signs of an emotional letdown, as the team from the Beehive State doubled up Tarleton at 8-4 to begin the period. Three straight kills – one from Strange and two from McNeil – stymied the Trailblazers surge and got Tarleton back within a point at 10-9. Kersey then landed a trio of consecutive kills following a pair of Dixie State points to tie the score at 12. Dixie State then assumed two-point leads twice, first at 16-14 and later at 18-16. 

But Tarleton, and Kersey in particular, made sure it got an early jump on its 90-mile bus ride home along Interstate 20. The Norman, Oklahoma native laced home three kills in four plays to transform a 20-19 Dixie State lead into a 22-21 score in favor of Tarleton. McNeil followed up with an ace before two straight Trailblazer errors sealed the deal. 

For Kersey, she has now led Tarleton in kills in nine of its last 10 matches. Strange joined Kersey in double-digit kills, as she finished with 10 of her own. She registered a season-best 13 kills in Tarleton’s match vs. California Baptist on Friday. Not to be outdone was Hali’a Swartman-Hogan, who added eight kills of her own at timely moments in the match and connected at a match-high .438 hitting percentage. 

Brannon’s double-double was her second in as many days and the ninth of her senior campaign. Fellow setter Melina Maldonado chipped in 12 assists of her own.  

Defensively, McNeil’s six blocks were a match-high. The ACU Wildcat, who will make her true return to Abilene when Tarleton faces its longtime rival on Oct. 30 inside Teague Special Events. She continues to lead the WAC in blocks with 96. On the back row, libero Ana Costas led Tarleton in digs with 19.  

Tarleton will now play three of its next five matches at home, beginning with Tuesday’s showdown with UIW. The Texans then make the short trek to Denton to face UNT on Thursday. Following its brief two-game road swing, Tarleton concludes its home slate with a WAC weekend series with Stephen F. Austin on Nov. 4 and Sam Houston on Nov. 6. 

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