EDINBURG – Tarleton’s bid to assume full possession of third place in the Southwest Division of the Western Athletic Conference fell short on Thursday in the Rio Grande Valley.
The Texans dropped a four-set affair to UTRGV in set scores of 20-25, 13-25, 26-24 and 18-25 in their penultimate match of 2021. The loss dipped Tarleton’s record to 14-14 overall and 5-6 in conference play.
The Vaqueros controlled the offensive flow throughout the evening, landing 59 kills to Tarleton’s 40 while finishing with the edge in assists (55-34), blocks (10-7) and digs (71-59). As a team Tarleton hit at a .125 percent clip – its lowest in a conference match this year – and was undone by 22 errors.
Ana Costas led all players in digs with 21. The senior, who will use the NCAA eligibility waiver and return to Tarleton in 22, has now posted nine 20-dig efforts this season. Her 363 digs rank third in the WAC as do her 4.54 digs per set.
The best defensive middle blocker in the match again donned Purple and White. Senior Lorin McNeil stuffed a match-high six attacks. The 5-11 McNeil continues to lead the WAC in total blocks (135), block assists (113) and blocks per set (1.29). She currently ranks third nationally in total blocks and leads all reclassifying players.
Offensively, Lauren Kersey led Tarleton in kills for the third time in as many games with 10. Junior Elise Smith reaffirmed her status as one of the most efficient scorers in the WAC, as the middle blocker laced home nine kills against 19 swings with just one error for a .454 hitting percentage. The Napoleonville, Louisiana native now ranks second in the WAC in the category (.338). Hali’a Swartman-Hogan added eight kills from the right side of the net while fellow senior Kayla Brannon dished out a team-best 18 assists.
A late surge by the Vaqueros proved costly in set one. Tarleton methodically built an 18-14 lead and maintained its advantage on the scoreboard at 19-16. UTRGV then rattled off an 8-0 scoring run to assume position for set point and take control of the match.
In set two, UTRGV rode the momentum from its comeback victory in the opening set, jumping out to a 7-2 lead and later doubling up the Texans at 14-7. The Vaqueros’ lead then grew to 17-7 as a part of an 8-1 extended scoring run. Tarleton did not get within single digits the rest of the way.
Set three saw Tarleton fight back from an early deficit and finish the job to send the match to a fourth frame. After trailing 11-6, the Texans ripped off six straight points to take a lead it maintained as late as 18-17 in the set. Tarleton’s heart was then on display twice more. UTRGV scored five straight points to lead 21-18, yet the Texans responded from another bout of adversity with four consecutive scores of their own. The Vaqueros had their first crack at match point at 24-23 but three straight UTRGV errors extended the match.
UTRGV raced out to a commanding lead it did not relinquish in the final set of the evening. The Vaqueros built a 14-7 advantage and later led by as many as eight points ant 22-14 and 16-24.
Tarleton has a chance to finish the 2021 campaign on a high note. The team draws Lamar (4-20, 0-10) at 11 a.m. on Saturday in Beaumont in its season finale. The Texans defeated the Cardinals in four sets on Oct. 7 in Stephenville. A win over Lamar gives Tarleton its 13th consecutive winning season under head coach Mary Schindler and 14th overall. The program would become the first in Tarleton’s WAC and D1 era to finish at or above .500 both overall and in conference play in consecutive seasons.