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A&M-Commerce volleyball drops season opener

By Justin Cheatham
On September 6, 2010

A&M-Commerce's Lions volleyball team lost the season opening match against the Southern Arkansas University Muleriders 3-1 on Friday, Sept. 3. The match was also a part of the two-day Lions Volleyball Classic tournament hosted by A&M-Commerce.

The Lions started strong with an early lead in game one, and nearly beat the Muleriders 23-21. However, Southern Arkansas rallied to defeat the lions 25-23, in the closest game of the match.

The Muleriders carried on the momentum into game two, establishing an early 12-7 lead. The Lions fought back scoring another ten points but their efforts were too little too late to keep Southern Arkansas from a 25-17 win.

The Lions entered game three fighting off the Muleriders early, but they caught back up to knot the game at 13-13. Freshman Kayla Bond showed that experience and talent are not too closely related, posting 11 kills and 12 digs. Bond and returning sophomore Rachel Robertson turned the tide of the match, leading the Lions to a 25-23 victory.

Senior Terra Ousley and freshman Ciara Holmes made the Muleriders work for points during game four, but their digs fell short. Southern Arkansas's more experienced team made game four a back-and-forth battle for the lead, eventually leading to a 25-22 win.

After falling in their first match of the day, A&M-Commerce bounced back to get a 3-0 win over Oklahoma Panhandle State University.

"We just got used an awful lot in the afternoon match, and in the evening match I think we corrected that a bit and finished our blocks a little bit better," Case said. "Blocking was a huge part of it, but not for the blocks so much as just being big and taking away space."

Case said it was more of his team's strategy that led to them out-blocking Oklahoma Panhandle nine to two.

"Philosophically, the way we block is more about taking space," he said. "The better we block, the fewer places they have to hit the ball. One of the performances I was really pleased with in this match was from Dakota Crockett. What Rachel [Robertson], Ciara [Holmes], Naomi [Mays], and Kayla [Bond] were able to do really well was to force them to hit the ball where they got blocked or they hit it to Dakota."

Each game of the match was closely fought, starting with the first, which ended 25-23. Bond was once again a major contributor, scoring six of her 11 kills on the night.

The second match went a bit more smoothly for the Lions, as they cruised to a 25-21 win. Freshman Jordan Neal was the go-to player, finishing with 13 assists. Case said she was a major factor in the match as a whole.

"It's tough to overlook Jordan [Neal]," he said. "She's so solid, just makes good decisions regularly. She really does a good job at setting up hitters two or three sets in advance."

After initially going down by eight points in the third game, A&M-Commerce rallied back behind important plays from Bond and Mays. It was eventually a Mays and Robertson block with ended the match 28-26.

"They played very well," Case said about Oklahoma Panhandle in the third game. "That was the team we scouted, so when we got going and all of a sudden we were down, I'm looking around thinking, ‘Am I the only one that expected them to play like this?' These guys are good, and we're just kind of sitting back and waiting for them to fall apart. I was really proud of how we responded to that."

After a solid first day, in which she got 22 kills and 15 digs, Bond said she was happy to be playing for the Lions.

"It's really exciting," she said. "I was really looking forward to playing for Coach Case, and being able to play all the way around is a lot of fun."

Day two of the tournament started with a 3-0 Lions victory over Fort Hays State. After edging out the first game 25-21, A&M-Commerce went on to take the next two, 25-19 and 25-8.

The evening match on day two was much closer, as the Lions came from behind to defeat the University of Arkansas at Monticello 3-2. A&M-Commerce started at a 2-0 deficit going into game three before pulling off a memorable victory.

"We were thinking work harder," Ousley said about the Lions after they went down two games. "We knew we could play better and we knew we could beat them. It was just small things we needed to work on that we've been trying to work on all weekend that we weren't doing."

After just losing the first two matches 25-22 and 25-23, something clearly switched on for the Lions. Robertson and freshman Ciara Holmes combined for nine kills in the third game as the Lions took it 25-15.

Neal was once again the creator, finishing the match with 41 assists. Crockett and sophomore Morgan Moeller were top defensive performers, finishing with 19 and 14 digs, respectively.

"Morgan [Moeller] is good," Case said. "I've always said it's just a matter of time until she comes in and helps us win a match. She was the difference in that, and not because she did anything statistically, but she just gave us ball control that allowed our middles to do what they needed to do."

After knotting the match with a 25-16 win in game four, A&M-Commerce finished strong with a 15-4 fifth game win to take the match.

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