ACU (4-9, 1-0) continues Western Athletic Conference play this week against the University of Texas-Arlington (9-4, 1-0) on Thursday and Stephen F. Austin (13-2, 1-1) on Saturday.
ACU started hot with a 3-2 win over Sam Houston to open their WAC schedule last Thursday. The Wildcats had the weekend off for the first time this season and head coach Alisa Blair said her team is ready for UTA and SFA. Blair was an assistant coach at SFA for three years prior to coming to ACU in January.
“It’s like any person we play in the WAC, you have to bring your A-game every single time,” Blair said. “There’s nothing different with the person across the net, it’s what we need to execute on our side at a very high level. Just because there’s a common opponent and people on the other side doesn’t mean we need to treat our game any differently.”
UTA has won seven in a row and nine of its last ten, including a 3-2 WAC opening win at Grand Canyon last Saturday. Prior to the year, UTA was voted to finish eighth in the WAC with ACU voted to finish 11th. The Mavericks are among the nation’s top 60 in total blocks (26th, 135), blocks per set (44th, 2.5), opponent hitting percentage (45th, .169) and service aces (58th, 81). UTA also leads the WAC in blocks per set, opponent hitting percentage and total blocks.
“Just because we’ve been doing this for a couple of months now doesn’t mean that we haven’t figured out all the quirks of each other,” Blair said. “We need to continue the growth mindset and be able to battle when things get a little bit tougher. If we can battle through those tough moments and overcome those tough moments, I think that will be a great thing for us.”
SFA lost 3-2 in a tense battle with Sam Houston last Saturday but won 3-1 against Tarleton on Thursday. Despite the loss the Ladyjacks have been dominant, beating numerous Div. I programs such as SMU, UNT, Tulsa, Arkansas State and others. SFA was voted to finish fifth in the WAC preseason poll and won their first nine of the year before falling to Houston Christian in a neutral site match. Defensive specialist Haley Hoang, junior from Plano, leads the WAC and is third in the NCAA in digs with 5.73 per set. Middle blocker Ielan Bradley, junior from Cypress, leads SFA with 171 kills and 3.11 per set with a .350 hitting percentage.
“I still care about those people 100 percent, but at the same time, they’re opponents at this point,” Blair said. “So I tell my friends all the time in the coaching world, ‘We’re not friends when it’s game day.’ But at the same time, I still care for all those people very deeply, but I do what we have to do for my Wildcat family now.”
ACU is coming off a strong offensive night against Sam Houston as they knocked down 72 kills for a .351 hitting percentage. Three Wildcats hit over .550 with five hitters obtaining double-digit kills. Right outside hitter Bryley Steinhilber, sophomore from Kennedale, has been dominant with three double-doubles in her last five including 12 kills and 14 digs last Thursday. Middle blocker Braden Bossier, junior from Fairfield, middle blocker Breanna Box, senior from Wichita Falls, and right outside hitter Jada Birkel, senior from Austin, all set or matched season-highs in kills and hitting percentage.
“That win is a really great one, especially with what we were looking to do in that game,” Blair said. “Just using that momentum moving forward, understanding we concentrated and we focused extremely hard on what we did, but at the exact same time we forced Sam Houston to do what we wanted them to do. Bringing that moment, that same mindset, that same execution into these next two games is what we really need to do moving forward.”
The Wildcats’ week in Moody starts against the Mavericks at 6 p.m. on Thursday and against SFA at 1 p.m. on Saturday with both being streamed live on ESPN+.