BEAUMONT – In front of a loud and rowdy crowd at McDonald Gym, the Lamar University volleyball squad squeaked out a comeback 3-2 (16-25, 25-21, 16-25, 25-23, 15-8) win from Central Arkansas Friday night in Southland Conference action to start league play at 3-1 for the first time since 2010.
Down 2-1, the Cardinals (3-13, 3-1 Southland Conference) closed out the final two sets, including a dominating seven kills and one error in the final fifth. The crowd of 472, 306 Lamar University students, was lively for the entire match and helped lift LU to its first win in its first contest at McDonald Gym.
“(The fans) are a huge lift. You can’t overstate what that crowd does,” said head coach Alan Edwards. “This is the third season I’ve been here, and I’ve never heard it like that. We are lucky to play in the building and a lot of magic happens between those walls.”
One crucial area the magic showed up was in the fifth set. The Sugar Bears (8-10 2-4), down 12-7 after Chelsea Grant’s– who led the Cardinals in kills (16) – kill and Haley Morton back to serve, were called for being out of rotation to award a point to LU.
“That’s a high-caliber team that is disciplined and has played at a high level for a lot of years,” said Edwards. “A rotation call there was McDonald Gym. You can overstate what that crowd means to us, especially when its several other student athletes.”
The Cardinals held Central Arkansas to a .000 attack percentage in the fifth set, four kills and four errors, while they finished with a .353 mark.
UCA was able to get on the board first in the set with a kill from Haley Tippett, and then jumped up 2-1 and then later 3-2. A service error from Kellen Dunn tied the match, and Tomar Thomas gave LU a lift with a kill followed by another from Murielle Hlavac to make it 5-3.
The Sugar Bears tied it at 5-5, but another kill from Thomas and a service ace from Hlavac put the Cards back up by two, and UCA would get no closer.
Thomas finished the match with 14 kills and a .286 attack mark while Hlavac was the unsung hero of the match with seven kills, six digs and an ace in just three sets.
“Tomar, Ivette and Dannisha, with all of them the best part is they are going to continue to get better,” said Edwards. “For Tomar, she is just starting to get back to where she was before she was injured last season. We thought she might have a good night, and that was her best performance of her year.
“Muri brought some production when we needed it,” said Edwards. “When we got into the fourth, we had to leave her in to serve, and she can just rip a jump serve. She’s a kid who is working through an injury, and has a warrior’s heart.”
The fourth set was a battle that featured seven ties and four lead changes. The last lead change came when a ball handling error from Amanda Dimon gave the Cardinals a 24-23 lead, and Hlavac polished it off with a kill from Haley Morton.
Big Red jumped out to a quick 8-3 lead in the set, but the Sugar Bears were able to battle back to tie the match at 14-14, the second tie of the game. Neither team could put together a rally until LU strung together two on a kill from Grant and error by Tippett. Still, UCA was able to tie it again at 22-22 when the Cardinals called a timeout. Central Arkansas answered the timeout with a kill from Elizabeth Strong, but an attack error tied it back at 23-23.
The Cardinals struggled in the first and third sets earning only 12 kills and hitting less than .225 in each. UCA was able to take advantage with a tremendous .522 attack mark in the first and .417 in the third. Despite the high marks in those sets, the Cardinals were still able to get UCA to a .255 match mark with 65 kills and 23 errors.
“We played well in two and four. We served well and kept them out of system,” said Edwards. “We went out in the first set and just played tentative. In the third, we pretty much did the same thing again. There weren’t any changes or adjustments. We lined up strength-for-strength.
“I don’t think I’ve ever coached a team with as much fight as this one has, but they have to bring it from the beginning,” said Edwards. “They have to learn to carry themselves for the entire match.”
Lamar finished the match with a .215 attack percentage with 60 kills and 25 errors. For the second-straight match, LU had at least three players with 10 or more digs. Libero Carlyn Stella led the way with 18, followed by Morton’s 13 and Monica Stroschein’s 10.
It was also the second-straight match for Morton to record a double-double after her 39 assists.
The win snapped a seven-game loss streak to the Sugar Bears that dated back to 2011.
The Cardinals will host Northwestern State again on Saturday at 1 p.m. at McDonald Gym.