GEORGETOWN, Texas – For the second time this week, the Southwestern University Pirates volleyball team went shot-for-shot for five sets with a nationally ranked team, falling short to the No. 25 Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders.
On senior day, the public address announcer honored the Pirates' 2018 senior class, reading off the list of career accomplishments of Brandi Campos, Jamison Duck, and Jillian Jeane in the presence of friends, family, and fans just prior to the match.
Five minutes later, Duck added another line to the list, connecting on the 1,000th kill of her career. It started, appropriately, with Campos controlling the ball perfectly on the dig, giving setter Mackenzie Mendez time to set the play perfectly to the left side.
With Campos giving verbal guidance from the back row, and Jeane shouting support from the bench (after the injured defensive specialist started for a few serves), Duck attacked the outside arm of the Crusaders' block, leaving the opposing frontcourt nowhere else to send the ball except out of bounds.
Duck finished with a match-high 20 kills and her 17 digs were second on the team, behind Campos' 19. She got the Pirates out to a quick start with four first-set kills to help Southwestern take the set 25-19, giving strong performances in the third and fourth sets with seven kills in each.
Though the Pirates celebrated a senior class that has seen one of the most successful stints of Southwestern volleyball, it's still a team heavily reliant on youth. Freshman Middle Blocker Darby Stowers contributed an efficient 10 kills on 25 attacks for a .320 hitting percentage, using her long arms to hit over and around the Crusaders' front row while also blocking two shots and assisting on another.
Coming off a career-high match the night before, junior Haven Cathy produced 12 kills and four digs while freshman Ali Grona finished with 10 digs and helped spark a Pirates' run with back-to-back aces in a crucial third set.
Directing it all, Mendez finished with 58 assists and nine digs.
Beyond the steady leadership of its senior class, the Pirates showed the talent to play straight up with nationally ranked opponents. On several occasions, hitters like Lauren Crabtree or Alyssa Dooley were able to keep the Crusaders back on their heels, bombarding them with one vicious attack after the next, stringing together three or four hits where Mary-Hardin Baylor was too focused on surviving to present a counter.
But survive the Crusaders did.
Juniors Miranda Klein and Haleigh Evans tied for a match-high 24 digs each for the Crusaders, digging balls inches from the ground. Mary Hardin-Baylor's front row also managed to control things at the net, with the nation's third ranked team in blocks per set (2.54) totaling three solo blocks and 12 assisted blocks.
All worked in tandem to extend rallies, taking the Pirates' best shots long enough for an opening or a mistake. (Southwestern committed 30 attack errors to Mary Hardin-Baylor's 19).
With the loss, the Pirates drop to 9-9 on the season while the Crusaders improve to 16-1. And though this was the final home match for the Pirates' seniors, this is hardly a finished team. Southwestern will hit the road to finish out its conference schedule with eight more matches and one non-conference match.
For this class of seniors, there are still a few more accomplishments to add to the list.