The Abilene Christian volleyball team helped erase six years of futility in its series vs. West Texas A&M with an incredible 3-0 victory over the eighth-ranked Lady Buffs Saturday afternoon at Moody Coliseum.
The Wildcats (9-12, 5-6 LSC) won by scores of 25-17, 25-22, and 28-26 to give Kellen Mock her first win as head coach over the defending six-time Lone Star Conference champions. Prior to today, ACU had not won a set vs. the Lady Buffs since 2009, while its last victory dated all the way back to Nov. 3 of 2005. The Wildcats also swept West Texas earlier that season en route to a program-record 31 wins and appearance in the regional championship match.
But now that the series between these two legendary programs has come to a close, Mock feels the importance of today's victory can't be overstated enough.
"West Texas is not only a great program that recruits tremendous players, but it also attracts some of the best coaches, people I've admired since I was a young coach," Mock said. "Both Tony Graystone, who's now at Corpus Christi, and Jason Skoch are both smart and gifted coaches who get their kids to play at the highest level day in and day out. So it means a lot to beat this team, especially because I haven't since I was a player.
"And I don't need to give my team a history lesson every time we play WT, because there's already a stigma attached to them and it's well known they've gone long stretches without getting beat by anyone in the conference. I didn't want to hype my players up any more than they already were this morning, so I simply told them that this was a good opportunity, but just another game."
The Wildcats' game one victory came as a pleasant surprise for the home crowd, but sets two and three were tense struggles from start to finish. ACU appeared on its way to coasting in game two after jumping out to a 9-1 lead behind the serve of senior Kalynne Allen, but a yellow card issued to Skoch quickly ignited an equally impressive run from the Lady Buffs that pulled them within a point at 11-10.
ACU would again built itself another comfortable lead further down the stretch at 19-15 only to see their rivals rattle off five consecutive points to take their first lead of the set and match at 20-19. The Wildcats, however, snatched the lead back behind a Sara Oxford kill before getting the ball over to Rachel Riley, who ripped three of her 11 kills during the set's final possessions.
"To win game two took a lot of maturity on the part of our players," Mock said. "It was frustrating to lose that 8-0 lead, but it was great to see them create another lead before coming back to win ... And then they pushed us even harder in game three, so it was impressive to pull out that win over the last few points."
West Texas (16-3, 7-2 LSC) began game three up 5-1, and would take off on another three or four-point run every time ACU started to get close. But after going up 20-17, the Wildcats pushed back ahead thanks to another kill from Riley and a service ace from Sarah Siemens.
ACU's lead was short lived as the Lady Buffs tied the score again at 21-21 off a kill by Kameryn Hayes, and the two sides remained in a deadlock over the next dozen or so plays. ACU reached match point several times during this stretch, but WT always had an answer ready, whether it was a kill by Laura Iwuchukwu, who tied the score at 24-24, or one from Stormi Lancaster, who knotted it at 25-25.
With the score tied, freshman Jennie Loerch was poised to walk out a hero after her game-high 15th kill gave her serving rights to a 26-25 lead, but her attempt crashed into the net for an error. Luckily for the Wildcats, however, Lancaster committed a similar miscue as her service traveled to far. That error brought the serve back to ACU, and after few more digs, sets and attacks, the home team celebrated a long overdue victory over their arch rivals with Oxford hammering the match-clinching point.
"This 2012 team is starting to live out the word, 'potential'," Mock said. "We started the year struggling mentally and losing to some teams at the lower end of the conference, statistically, so its great to see them turn it around with two great matches this weekend. One of our biggest areas of focus over the last three weeks was creating a rhythm between our setter and hitters, and now we're starting to see everyone's confidence level on the rise. Each hitter has just been ripping the ball and doing everything they can to be aggressive."
Led by Loerch's 15 kills, ACU hit .276 for the match compared to .200 for West Texas, which was paced by Hayes' 14 kills. Loerch only committed three errors on 38 attempts for a .316 attacking percentage, while Riley batted .346 and Oxford .242. The Wildcats also received some timely hits from Allen, who finished 7-for-12 with one error (.500).
"Loerch may have carried us on offense today, but Kalynne has consistently put up high numbers up for us all season," Mock said. "She is setting a great standard for the rest of our players, and it's been fun to see her shine."
In addition to delivering a pair of service aces, Siemens again had a tremendous match as the starting setter, finishing with 43 assists. And two of her classmates also produced solid efforts, with Madison Hoover finishing with 18 digs, and Corrie Reeder taking part in five of the team's eight blocks.
The Wildcats finished their six-match homestand at 5-1 and will return to the road again next Friday and Saturday with matches at Angelo State and Tarleton State.
Information provided by ACU athletics department.