By Brian Roe, Sports Writer
The Wildcats head into Lawton, Okla., on Thursday having won 11 of their last 12 matches. The LSC South Division champions received a first-round bye and will not compete until Friday when the team will face the winner of the Eastern New Mexico-Central Oklahoma match.
The Wildcats have played UCO once this season and won in a three-game sweep. Eastern New Mexico handed ACU its one and only conference loss Oct. 21. The Wildcats beat EMU at home in a five-game battle in Moody Coliseum on Oct. 2.
A trio of juniors has led the Wildcats to their 27-6 overall record this season. Junior outside hitter Michelle Bernhardt, junior middle blocker Amanda Slate and junior setter Lindsey Martin provide balance to the overall ACU attack.
ACU head coach Brek Horn said an offensive focus this season has been to spread the ball around.
“We feel like we have a lot of different weapons that can beat our opponents,” Horn said. “We wanted to show during the season that you can’t focus on just one or two players on this team because we have a lot of weapons that can beat you.”
The most explosive of those weapons is likely Bernhardt. The junior was chosen by other coaches and sports information directors in the Lone Star Conference South Division as the preseason player of the year. Bernhardt did not disappoint, finishing with more kills than anyone else in the entire LSC.
“Michelle is just so tough,” Horn said. “She is the total team player.”
Martin set the tone offensively for the Wildcats and led the LSC in assists per game. She averaged an 13.48 assists per game-almost one assist higher than anyone else in the LSC.
“Lindsey makes our offense go,” Horn said. “Coach [Sarah] Carthel and I have really been at her all season to improve all aspects of her game, and she has.”
Slate strikes fear in her opponents with her jump serve and her ferocity at the net. The junior finished fourth in the LSC in blocks with 18 solo blocks and 73 assisted blocks. Slate also finished second in the LSC with a .347 hitting percentage.
“There are so many different things Amanda can do as far as serving, blocking and finishing a point,” Horn said. “When a game is going well for us, we have our blockers involved offensively, and Amanda is one of the keys to that.”
The team is not made up of only those three players, however. Several other players have stepped into various roles through the course of the season. Freshmen outside hitters Abbie Lowry and Liz Snoddy have contributed to the team.
Lowry has solidified her role as the second outside hitter, finishing the season strong with 182 kills in 67 games. Snoddy has established herself as a regular defensive player on the back row adding 237 digs this season.
Another surprise this season came from junior middle blocker Ashlee Motola. The third-year player improved statistically all season and finished third behind Bernhardt and Slate on the team in kills with 269.
The Wildcats have also received production from other starters, including senior libero Kellen Morrow (a team-high 456 digs), senior middle blocker Sophia Kindred (206 kills), and sophomore setter and defensive player Malia Plumlee (282 digs).
Overall, the Wildcats won with a balanced offensive and defensive game. ACU finished first-out of the 12 teams in the LSC-in kills, assists and opponent-hitting percentage. The team finished second in hitting percentage and service aces.
The Wildcats will face off against the winner of the UCO-ENM match on Friday at 5 p.m. If ACU wins Friday, the team will advance to the LSC Championship game on Saturday at 7 p.m.
The Southwestern Regional Tournament will take place Nov. 18. The location has not been determined, but the Wildcats are expected to get a regional bid after finishing the season in the top six regionally.