Volleyball – Season-best offensive performance lifts NSU to Southland-opening sweep at McNeese

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LAKE CHARLES – Behind its best offensive performance of the season, the Northwestern State volleyball team did what it has often done in previous years – capture the opening match of Southland Conference play.

The Lady Demons delivered a season-best .339 hitting percentage Thursday night, using that efficient offense to post a 3-0 (25-18, 25-18, 25-21) sweep of state rival McNeese at Memorial Gym. Northwestern State now has won its Southland Conference opener three of the past four seasons.

Freshman Alexis Warren led Northwestern State (6-10, 1-0) with 14 kills in 35 attacks, hitting a season-high .343. Warren added 10 digs for her sixth double-double of the season.

Senior Lauren Agan knocked down nine kills and played error-free offense until the third set. Agan finished with a .292 hitting percentage, marking her third-best offensive performance of the season.

“They did a great job taking care of the ball on the outside,” second-year head coach Sean Kiracofe said. “Our middles were efficient. We had several conversations this week with Alexis about taking care of the ball in certain situations. She struggled with that last weekend in Tulsa, particularly against Oral Roberts, but she did a fantastic job of taking everything we told her, recognizing those situations and handling them.”

Natalie Jaeger steered the offense to its stellar performance, handing out 40 assists, a three-set season-high for the senior.

“Each rotation, we had specific ways we wanted to attack them,” Kiracofe said. “Natalie did a good job with her decision making. When we had some out-of-control situations, our attackers did good things with the ball didn’t give them easy points.”

With its conference opener on the road, Northwestern State’s fast start to the match was exactly what it needed. The Lady Demons grabbed six of the first seven points of the match and built as much as a nine-point lead in the opening set.

The Cowgirls rallied, cutting the lead to four on a couple of occasions, before an Agan kill sealed the first set.

Each of the following two sets were back-and-forth affairs early with McNeese holding a lead as late as 14-13 in the second set before Northwestern State overwhelmed the hosts with a balanced attack that saw five players record at least five kills and no player hit less than .235 for the match.

While NSU’s offense was clicking, the Lady Demons were strong defensively as well, keeping McNeese under a .200 hitting percentage in all three sets and holding the Cowgirls (4-12, 0-1) to a .158 mark for the match.

Libero Channing Burleson, who entered the match ranked second in the Southland and 22nd nationally in digs per set, surpassed her season average of 5.22 digs per set by notching a match-high 17 digs.

NSU’s front line turned in a balanced effort as five players combined for five total blocks. On the opposing side, McNeese failed to record a single block.

“We blocked really well,” Kiracofe said. “They’re a smart team, and they’re able to recognize a solid block. Our defense came up and picked up any type of shots they had. Another thing we worked on this week was being consistent with our blocks. When they hit down into the block, we took advantage.”

Northwestern State returns to action Saturday when they face Nicholls in Thibodaux at 1 p.m.

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