ACU opened home conference volleyball play on Thursday, facing the UT-Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros, with UTRGV winning the match 3-2 in what was a very closely contested conference matchup.
Entering the game, the Wildcats were coming off a rough road weekend where the team lost to both Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State, 0-3. The Vaqueros, however, were on a hot streak having won 4 of their last six matches and were 1-1 in conference play.
UTRGV set the pace early in the first set, opening with a 7-1 scoring run. Though a great offense turnaround the Wildcats weren’t able to make up the six-point defect losing 25-15.
In this set, the Vaquero’s had 17 kills while hitting .310 in a dominating win. The Wildcats only managed a .077 hitting percentage and 8 kills with 5 errors.
The second set showed an improvement for the Wildcats, who used several scoring runs to defeat the Vaqueros 25-22. The Wildcat’s win was also complemented by 16 kills and a team match-high .278 hitting percentage.
The third set was highlighted by a combined 15 errors between the two teams and shared low hitting percentages. The Wildcats outlasted the Vaqueros 25-21 to come back for a 2-1 lead.
UTRGV opened the fourth set with a 7-3 scoring run, but after an ACU comeback to lead 12-8 a late UTRGV timeout ended the Wildcats momentum. Slower play from the well-timed timeout allowed the Vaqueros to regain and maintain the lead for a 25-20 set win.
With the match tied a 2-2 the match culminated in a close-set five that was back and forth early on. But a 5-1 scoring run from UTRGV would be the difference maker and seal the Wildcat’s fate.
The loss moves the Wildcats to 0-3 early in conference play. Despite the loss, the Wildcats were able to maintain themselves against a team that had been playing well as of late, which was a good look for a Wildcat team that not even a week earlier dropped six straight sets.
“Obviously we weren’t very satisfied with how we played last weekend, and so we had to kind of reset how we were coming into this week and how we were preparing in practice and training,” said head coach Angela Mooney. “The expectation of what the level of our gym needed to look like and just a big reset we talked about it quite a bit and then each day in our practice environment. We were getting more aggressive and more confident doing some things getting back to our style of play and using our physicality to the best of our ability.”
A notable individual effort came from junior outside and right-side hitter from Austin, Jada Birkel. Birkel led the team with 15 kills, a .286 hitting percentage and 16.5 points.
Defensively, the Wildcats were led by graduate transfer libero Madison Lawler from Grapevine, who had 30 digs. These individual efforts were a part of a larger team effort that showed up for the Wildcats.
“I think it just comes down to finish and just do it,” said Lawler. “I think that’s something that we’re going to look forward to against Lamar on Saturday. I think we’re just going to be able to come out, do our jobs, and talk each other through it”.
The Wildcats season continues Oct. 9 versus the Lamar Cardinals at 1 p.m. The game will be at the Teague Special Events Center and streaming on ESPN+.