No. 11 Texas State volleyball (20-1 overall, 15-0 Sun Belt) swept the University of Texas at Arlington (9-6 overall and Sun Belt) 3-0 (25-15, 25-22, 25-17) in Strahan Arena, to extend its winning streak to 17 and remain perfect in conference play.
With a third consecutive Sun Belt Conference regular season title on the line, sophomore outside hitter Lauren Teske and the rest of the Bobcats do not see losing as an option.
"We don't know anything else," Teske said. "There is no choice, we have to win the ring and that's our mentality. We're not going to let anything knock us off our rocker. We are going to do whatever we can to win a ring because we know no different."
Texas State did not come out particularly strong, especially in the first two sets. This was partially due to senior middle blocker Tyeranee Scott being out with injury, but is expected to be healthy by the Sun Belt Tournament.
Head Coach Sean Huiet thinks that the team gradually got better as the game went on.
"I thought we were pretty sluggish tonight with Tyeranee [Scott] being out and other factors going in that made us on edge a little bit," Huiet said. "But I cannot say enough for how we rebounded."
Beginning the first set, Texas State jumped out to a 6-1 lead over UTA. The Mavericks then went on a 4-0 run to close the gap 6-5.
Neither team could manage any significant runs but the Bobcats managed to keep a slight advantage. The Mavericks got as close as three points halfway through the set, but two errors by UTA extended the Texas State lead to 19-13 heading into a Mavericks timeout.
Out of the break, the Bobcats teamwork would prove to be too much for the Mavericks. A 4-0 run by the Bobcats, including two consecutive kills from Teske, would win set one 25-15.
Teske and junior outside hitter Janell Fitzgerald led with five kills each and junior setter Emily Dewalt led with 13 assists in the opening set.
Set two was a much different story as UTA came back with much more fire and defensive intensity. There were 16 ties and five lead changes throughout the second as the teams traded blows.
Junior libero Kayla Granado believes the Bobcats struggles in the second were not a result of UTA playing well, but instead it was Texas State's own fault.
"It was definitely self-inflicted," Granado said. "We were making silly mistakes, hitting balls out that we shouldn't. We just needed to focus back in."
Halfway through the set, the maroon and gold found themselves trailing 13-15 after a kill by UTA outside hitter/middle blocker Briana Brown. Texas State went on a 4-0 run to take the lead 18-16.
After another kill from Brown, Texas State called a timeout trailing 21-20. Out of the break, the Bobcats went on a 5-1 run to narrowly take the second set 25-22 and take a 2-0 advantage.
By the end of the second set, Texas State had five players with over five kills. Leading the way offensively, Fitzgerald led in kills with eight while DeWalt had 27 assists. Granado led the Bobcats on defense with 13 digs.
Texas State opened up the third set with a 6-2 lead after a kill by Fitzgerald and an attacking error by UTA. The Mavericks managed to bring themselves back and narrow the Bobcat lead to 9-8.
The Bobcats would respond with their own 8-4 run and put them ahead 17-12. After back-to-back attacking errors by the Mavericks, UTA Head Coach J.T. Wenger decided to call a timeout trailing 20-14.
UTA would score twice after the timeout, but Texas State closed out the set on a 5-1 run to take the 25-17 and complete the 3-0 sweep.
Huiet felt that the team had their best set of the night in the final set
"We felt a lot better in set three getting into a rhythm," Huiet said. "We keep saying that we want to be playing our best volleyball going into next weekend. Overall I think we are playing well and although we had a little bit of a slow start but glad that we got the win in three sets."
A total of five Bobcats had over 5 kills: Fitzgerald (13), Teske (8), sophomore middle blocker Tessa Marshall (7), junior middle blocker Jillian Slaughter (7) and junior outside hitter Kenedi Rutherford (6). DeWalt led the game in assists (42) and Granado led the Bobcats in digs (16).
Texas State gathered a total of 46 kills (.234 hitting percentage), 44 assists, 62 digs and 3 blocks.
UT Arlington defensive specialist/libero Alli Wells led the game in digs (24) while freshman setter Mollie Blank led the Mavericks in assists (18).
As a team, the Mavericks only managed 29 kills (.132 hitting percentage) but did lead in blocks with five to the Bobcats three.
If the Bobcats win on Saturday, they will share the conference regular-season championship with Coastal Carolina (16-0 overall and Sun Belt) and secure the three-peat.
With only one game left in his first season at the helm, Huiet reflected on the season thus far.
"All the stuff we've been through, 2020 has been one for the record books..." Huiet said. "We said all along that it was going to take everyone to [win the conference]. It has taken the entire team and they are just resilient. It doesn't matter if we are winning 2-0 or we are down 0-2, this team just knows and believes they're going to win and that's pretty special."
Texas State is hoping to end the season perfect in conference play with a win in the last meeting against UTA Nov. 14 at 1 p.m. The matchup will be aired on ESPN+.