On Thursday night in Moody, the Wildcats (4-9, 1-0) and Sam Houston State Bearkats (3-12, 0-1) scratched and clawed their way to a fifth set which saw the Wildcats take home the Western Athletic Conference opener victory, 3-2.
ACU took the first set 25-16 before dropping the next two sets. Heading into the fourth set, ACU gained back their momentum and were able to propel themselves to a 3-2 comeback win. The win is the first WAC win for the Wildcats, who were predicted to finish 11th out of 13 prior to the year.
“The girls were really excited to come back and start conference play,” head coach Alisa Blair said. “It starts back at 0-0 once you get into the conference. The beginning of the season matters but this is what really matters for us. Really dialing in and getting disciplined and resetting our mindset and focusing on what’s important for us.”
The offense was electric for the Wildcats in the first set as they downed 17 kills on 34 attacks to the Bearkats’ seven kills on 34 attacks. ACU’s offense set the tone early as they took the first set 25-16.
“We played really clean volleyball in the first set,” Blair said. “We did a really good job of playing the level we wanted to play at and controlling the court the way we wanted to.”
Sets two and three were a different story as the Bearkats won both 25-21. Blair said her players regained their focus after sets two and three. Sets four and five were all ACU as they won both 25-14 and 15-6 to seal the win. The win is the first WAC and Moody win for Blair.
“It’s super exciting, I’m more pumped than anybody else right now,” Blair said. “We’re super excited just because it’s more of a team win than anything. The girls responded really well and capitalized where they needed to.”
Two of the three losses for ACU last weekend were five set matches against TCU and Texas State. Blair said her team lost focus once again and worked to re-engage their minds on Thursday night.
“When you get into the fifth set, that’s all it is, mindset,” Blair said. “‘How do we stay engaged, how do we push, how do we let everything on our side focus on us instead of on the opponent?’ When we do that and we focus on ourselves and make sure we establish our style, we can capitalize the way we want to.”
ACU shined with 71 digs and 65 assists to SHSU’s 47 digs and 37 assists on the night.
Libero Sara Carrizales, freshman from Arlington, led the way in digs with 17. Right side outside hitter Bryley Steinhilber, sophomore from Kennedale, backed her up with 14. Setter Madison Rohre, redshirt senior from Woodway, had 25 assists while setter Madeline Guffy, sophomore from Krum, led the way with 27.
Five Wildcats received over ten kills on Thursday night, two of which hit over .625 on the night. Middle blocker Breanna Box, senior from Wichita Falls, had 11 kills on 16 attacks for an efficient .625 hitting percentage. Her teammate, middle blocker Braden Bossier, junior from Fairfield, led the way with 13 kills on 20 attacks, good enough for a .650 hitting percentage.
“She played the cleanest game I’ve ever seen,” Blair said. “I thought she did a really good job. Even whenever the set wasn’t perfect, she was placing the ball really well.”
Now the Wildcats have a week to prepare for the University of Texas-Arlington Mavericks next Thursday and Stephen F. Austin the following Saturday. Prior to ACU, Blair was an assistant at SFA for four years where she went 105-21.
“Definitely going to be tough competition,” Blair said. “It’s going to be a blast from the past for me playing SFA. We’re super excited to have them in our gym. We’re really excited to be back in Moody for another weekend before heading back out on the road.”
The Mavericks and Wildcats start at 6 p.m. next Thursday night at Moody Coliseum and will be streamed live on ESPN+.