ABILENE – Purple and orange balloons dotted the Teague Special Events Center on Saturday and fans wore costumes as they took in a Western Athletic Conference tilt between longtime rivals Abilene Christian and Tarleton.
The decorations and cosplay were the center of the Wildcats’ Halloween-themed promotion.
Unfortunately for the hosts, Tarleton had all the tricks, and the treats went to the Texans, who spoiled ACU’s party with a sweep in set scores of 25-17, 25-21 and 25-20.
It was as thorough of a performance as Tarleton has exhibited in the 2021 campaign. The Texans (13-12, 3-3 WAC) trailed just once throughout the affair and enjoyed the edge in points (51-48), blocks (8-3), digs (66-60) and service aces (26-13). Tarleton also forced 26 ACU errors – 16 attack and eight service – while committing just 13 infractions of its own.
The victory gave Tarleton a season sweep of the Wildcats. The Texans knocked off ACU in four sets (25-14, 23-25, 25-20, 25-19) on Oct. 16 in Stephenville. Tarleton has now won three of its last four matches – all of which have been straight set victories – and five-of-seven overall.
With the Halloween spirit alive and well in the arena, outside hitters Hali’a Sweartman-Hogan and Lauren Kersey played the roles of Batman and Robin to a tee. The duo sliced through the ACU block all afternoon to pace the Texan attack. Swartman-Hogan led Tarleton in kills for the second time in as many games with 14 on a .367 percent clip while Kersey had 12 kills on 27 swings against just one error for a match-high .407 hitting percentage.
Swartman-Hogan and Kersey were the crux of a dominant set one victory for Tarleton. Kersey laced home six kills and Swartman-Hogan found open court five times. The Texans scored the match’s first five points, then tripled up the Wildcats at 12-4 behind three points from Kersey. Tarleton extended its lead to 16-9 behind two more kills from Kersey and tightened its grip on the frame at 20-13 following a kill from Swartman-Hogan’s right hand. Setter Kayla Brannon, who notched her 11th double-double of the fall with a 14-dig, 13-assist effort, landed a push kill to increase Tarleton’s lead to 23-15 and fed Kersey with a no-look assist three plays later to force set point at 24-17.
Tarleton’s front row asserted control of the net in the opening frame, limiting ACU to a match-low .114 hitting percentage and helping force eight errors. The Wildcats hit below .150 in all three sets and .127 for the match. The Texans held Lindsey Toney, who ranks second in the WAC in kills per set (4.67), to seven kills and a .000 hitting percentage.
Anchoring Tarleton’s block once again was Lorin McNeil, who celebrated her birthday by stuffing a match-high seven attacks. Not to be outdone were Kersey and Swartman-Hogan, who chipped in four and two, respectively. McNeil, who transferred to Tarleton from ACU in 2019, continues to lead the WAC in total blocks with 112 following her performance.
ACU took its lone and largest lead of the match at 8-5 to open set two. Tarleton responded with a decisive 9-2 run to regain the lead at 14-10. The Texans bookended kills from Swartman-Hogan and Carmen Kinsey around a Wildcat attack error as a part of a 5-0 spurt that made the score 10-8 before a touch kill by Trinity Vinzant capped the scoring surge. Kersey and Swartman-Hogan then landed their ninth kills of the match to keep Tarleton ahead on the scoreboard at 16-13 and 19-17. The Wildcats knotted things at 19-19 but Tarleton responded out of a timeout with a 4-0 run capped by a kill from Kersey to thwart ACU’s bid to even the match.
Another extended scoring run in set three ensured Tarleton got an early jump on its 90-mile bus ride home along Interstate 20. After ACU crawled within a point at 13-12, Tarleton separated from the Wildcats for good with an 11-5 run in familiar fashion. Swartman-Hogan landed three of her final four kills near the midpoint of the set to swell Tarleton’s lead from 15-13 to 19-14. Brannon fooled the ACU defense with her second dump off of day to get Tarleton within three points of match point at 22-17 before Swartman-Hogan delivered one final blow from the right pin six plays later to lock up match victory.
Two other players joined Brannon in reaching double-digit digs. Libero Ana Costas led all players with 19 while Emma Halcomb, who earned the starting nod as a defensive setter, added 11. Rounding out the list of individual leaders for Tarleton was Melina Maldonado, who dished out a team-high 15 assists.
Tarleton has just four games remaining in its second season at NCAA Division I. The Texans host Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston on Nov. 4 and Nov. 6 in a traditional Thursday-Saturday pairing for their final homestand of the year. Tarleton wraps up with a final road trip through south Texas to meet UTRGV and Lamar on Nov. 11 and Nov. 13.