CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (Press Release) - The two squads who were predicted to be frontrunners for the 2016 Southland Conference volleyball championship crossed paths in the Dugan Wellness Center on Thursday night, but Stephen F. Austin came up on the wrong end of a 3-0 score against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Peyton Redmond tied a career-high with 10 kills for the Ladyjacks, who suffered their first Southland Conference setback of the season. The Islanders, on the other hand, executed when it counted, getting double-digit kill efforts from a pair of players and winning the hitting percentage battle .265 to .179 to take over sole possession of first place in the league standings.
"Corpus is not a team that is going to make a lot of mistakes, and there were times where I felt like our team was just trying a little too much," said SFA head coach Debbie Humphreys. "If everyone takes one or two unforced errors out of their game on our side, we're right there with them."
Fans of neck-and-neck volleyball got what they clamored for early on in the battle for first place, but the Islanders' firepower allowed them to claim a 1-0 lead. Redmond put down one of her three terminations in the first set during a 3-1 SFA surge that began the match before Texas A&M-Corpus Christi captured three of the next four points to produce the first of eight deadlocks in the set.
Justice Walker's lone kill of the frame pushed the Ladyjacks ahead 15-14, but the Islanders' offense chose that moment to flip the switch. Brittany Gilpin punched down three kills and Monica Moran added two more in Texas A&M-Corpus Christi's 10-5 run that sewed up the first frame.
Another back-and-forth beginning played out between the pair of Southland Conference combatants in the second frame before Morgan Carlson and Madison Fitzsimmons keyed a 5-1 run by the home team that put SFA behind 13-9.
Although their deficit grew to as many as four points, the Ladyjacks managed to chip away at it down the stretch, eventually knotting things at 18 each following an Islander attack error. SFA's comeback set up a dramatic finish to the hotly-contested set. McIntyre began a 3-0 Ladyjack spree with a kill and Walker finished it off with a powerful solo rejection to push the visitors ahead 24-23.
An additional kill from Walker provided a 25-all tie, but Gilpin's kill after a double-touch by the Ladyjacks gave the home team a 27-25 win.
Desperate to extend the league tilt beyond the minimum three sets, the Ladyjacks relied on Redmond to lead the charge early in the deciding frame. The sophomore fired in three kills through the course of a 6-3 SFA run that started the set and Walker added a pair of block assists during that stretch as well.
Kills from four Islanders during a 7-1 surge by the home team forced an SFA timeout, and after talking things over the Ladyjacks took off on a 10-5 run featuring two kills apiece from McIntyre and Walker.
The owners of a 17-15 edge, SFA saw the Islanders come back to tie the set at 20 each and ensure that the conclusion of the third set would be just as exciting as the first two. Walker and Haley Coleman teamed up and posted the Ladyjacks' seventh team block of the night, tying the set at 24, but the Islanders responded with kills off the hands of Fitzsimmons and Madeleine Doud to close out the match.
Lexus Cain notched 20 of SFA's 52 digs in the match and Walker provided another strong match in the front row by totaling six blocks - one solo and five block assists - to go along with her eight kills.
McIntyre saw five of her nine kills hit the floor in the first set and KK Payne added six terminations for the Ladyjacks. Ann Hollas directed the offense by passing out a match-best 36 assists.
"We are not a long way away from putting everything together; we are right there knocking on the door," Humphreys added. "There just has to be a recognition of when you go for it and when you don't on certain plays. Overall I was pleased with how we played and there are a lot of positives we can take from this match."