Texans continue hot surge with Tuesday night sweep of Incarnate Word

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STEPHENVILLE – Tarleton is starting to play its best volleyball of the fall at precisely the right time.  

The Texans swept Incarnate Word on Tuesday inside Wisdom Gym in a dominant performance, never trailing by more than two points throughout the nonconference tilt in route to set victories of 25-17, 25-19 and 25-19. 

Tarleton, (12-11, 2-3 WAC) climbed above .500 in the win-loss column for the second time this season. With the sweep, the Texans have won four of their last five ballgames and five-of-seven dating back to a 3-1 home victory over Lamar on Oct. 7. Tarleton is now riding a two-match sweep streak as well, as the team notched a straight set win over Dixie State on Saturday in Abilene.  

Tuesday’s performance gives grist to the notion that Tarleton is beginning to put all the pieces together with just six games remaining in its second season at NCAA Division I. 

Serve and receive was a point of emphasis head coach Mary Schindler highlighted during her weekly radio show earlier in the afternoon. The team collectively heeded the 17th-year coach’s words from the opening whistle. 

Tarleton landed 41 kills against just 12 errors for a .282 hitting percentage over the three-set affair. The Texans were even more efficient in the first two frames, connecting at a .301 clip on attacks. 

Effective ball control and subsequent stiff play at the net then spelled trouble for the Cardinals (8-16). Tarleton limited UIW to a .170 hitting percentage in the win and did not allow any player to tally double-digit kills. The Texans also held the edge in assists (37-31), blocks (10-4), digs (44-42) and service aces (7-1). 

The offensive rhythm Tarleton exercised was reflected in a balanced box score.  

Four players finished with at least six kills. Fueling the flow was Lauren Kersey, who posted match-highs in kills (13) and hitting percentage (.480). Kersey, a reigning All-Western Athletic Conference first team honoree, has now led Tarleton in kills in 10 of its last 11 outings. Kersey’s hitting percentage was her second-highest figure in her senior season. 

Fellow outside hitters Carmen Kinsey and Hali’a Swartman-Hogan each added eight kills off the bench. Swartman-Hogan has been at her most efficient in Tarleton’s last two contests. The former Oklahoma Sooner tallied eight kills in Saturday’s win and hit at a .438 clip in both matches. 

Rounding out the attack was senior Amber Strange, who earned her third consecutive start at outside hitter. She made the most of it, too. Strange found the court on six attacks and added seven digs and a match-high four service aces while rotating through all six positions on the court. 

Tarleton’s back row helped execute its coach’s imperative. Setters Melina Maldonado and Kayla Brannon assisted on 29 of Tarleton’s kills. Maldonado dished out 15 assists while Brannon had 14. Brannon paired her dimes with 10 digs to earn her third consecutive double-double and 10th of her senior campaign. Leading the team in digs was libero Ana Costas, who finished with 11 and has eclipsed 10 digs in all but two of the games she has appeared in in 2021. 

Kersey and Lorin McNeil, who leads the WAC in blocks (101), stifled UIW at the net all evening. McNeil led all players with five blocks and Kersey had four. Kersey has stuffed three-or-more attacks in five of Tarleton’s last seven games. 

The Texans perhaps absorbed UIW’s best shot early. After opening up a 4-0 lead in the opening frame, the Cardinals scored on nine of the ensuing 13 plays to command a brief 9-8 lead.  
UIW continued to nurse a one-point advantage as the teams alternated points to the tune of a 12-11 score 

From there, Tarleton turned the tide in the set and the match on its ear. The Texans ripped off a 5-0 run behind consecutive kills by McNeil and three straight service aces from Strange. Tarleton then tightened its grip with two straight points via a kill from Kersey and block by Brianna Rhodes to maintain an 18-13 lead and prompt a UIW timeout. Five of the final six points in the set belong to Purple and White. Three straight kills from Swartman-Hogan, Strange and McNeil upped the Texans’ edge to 23-16 before another kill by Strange and block attack from McNeil closed the books. 

A brief gridlock on the scoreboard in set two quickly evaporated after Hogan and Kersey teamed up to land three consecutive kills to help Tarleton assume control at 10-7. Three Cardinal errors and two kills apiece then aided an extended scoring spurt that increased the Texans’ lead to 18-12. Kersey, Strange and Swartman-Hogan each chipped in two kills the rest of the way to sew up set victory and put Tarleton in pole position to earn the sweep. 

Tarleton took care to ensure the contest would not go beyond three sets in short order. The Texans quickly doubled up the Cardinals at 10-5 and maintained five-point leads at 16-11, 18-13 and 19-14. McNeil later landed Tarleton’s seventh-and-final service ace to up the Texans’ lead to 22-16 and effectively ensure the sweep. Kills from Swartman-Hogan and Kersey and an ace by Kinsey on match point made it academic. 

The Texans are now 5-1 in home games this season. 

Tarleton now hits the road for a nonconference tilt at North Texas (14-9) at 7 p.m. on Thursday and wraps up the week against Abilene Christian on Saturday, with the WAC affair tabbed for a 1 p.m. first serve inside the Teague Events Center. The Texans then conclude their home slate with a traditional Thursday-Saturday pairing against Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston on Nov. 4 and Nov. 6, respectively. 

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