The Arkansas-Pine Bluff volleyball team had a lot of emotions heading into its final regular season game Monday night at H.O. Clemmons Arena.
Despite the possible distraction of Senior Night, UAPB kept its emotions in-check as it swept Arkansas-Monticello 3-0 (25-16, 25-19 and 25-21).
Aside from wanting to win for their two seniors Rachel Hornbuckle and Rachel Tims, the Lady Lions (12-21, 4-4 in SWAC) were looking to avenge a three-set loss (26-24, 25-20 and 25-20) suffered to the Cotton Blossoms on Sept. 10.
“This game they tried to come out and be as focused as possible,” UAPB head coach Kyetta May said. “I told them, ‘It’s not just our last home game; it’s our last regular season game.’
“We really wanted to send the seniors out with a victory.”
May called her seniors “two great kids.”
“I’ve been trying to give them stability, because I’m the third coach they’ve had in four years here. …
“I really think they did a good job buying into the system.”
Hornbuckle said it was hard to keep her emotions in-check before her final home game.
“I was really about to cry before the game started,” Hornbuckle said. “But then I was able to calm down, because I really wanted to win on Senior Night.”
Tims found it a little easier to stay focused than her fellow senior.
“I just came out and played it like a regular game,” Tims said.
The first set started off back-and-forth with UAPB holding a slim 8-7 lead before going on a 10-4 run to force a UAM timeout.
The stoppage didn’t slow down the Lady Lions as they went on to claim the first set, 25-16, led by three kills from sophomore Ayanna Parker.
In the second set it was almost déjà vu as UAPB turned a 10-9 lead into 16-9 lead, but this time UAM (12-17, 2-10 in Great American Conference) responded.
A 4-0 run for the Blossoms pulled them with three points, but that would be as close as they would get. Behind three kills from junior Audrey Sherles, UAPB closed out the set, 25-19.
The third set saw impressive performances on both sides of the net. UAPB freshman Alexis Smith and junior Ashlie Jones had four kills each in the set, but UAM seniors Holly Schweigert and Tori Bozzo countered with four kills apiece.
The Lady Lions had more depth in the final set, though. As kills from Sherles, Hornbuckle, junior Jordan Foyer and freshman Whitney Harris helped UAPB close out the win at 25-21.
As a team that’s been struggling lately, the evening was a very disappointing one for the Blossoms and head coach Peter Cruz.
“I was hoping we could build some momentum with two more games to go this week before the regular season ends,” Cruz said. “We need to have a little bit more fire and a little bit more energy.
“It just wasn’t there tonight.”
The loss is the fourth in a row for UAM and seventh in its last eight games. The Blossoms haven’t won a conference game since sweeping Henderson State on Oct. 15.
“It’s mostly mental,” Cruz said of his team’s recent struggles. “At this point in the season everyone should know where to be out on the floor.
“We’re just lacking execution and more of the mental aspects.”
The Lady Lions will now have almost two weeks to prepare for the SWAC tournament, which is scheduled for Nov. 23-24 in Jackson, Miss.
“I believe we just have to work on our energy,” Tims said about preparing for the tournament. “We have the talent.”
UAPB will carry a two-game winning streak into the tourney after having beaten Southern, 3-2, in its final conference game.
“It was definitely important,” Hornbuckle said of Monday night’s win. “It was really important.
“We needed that confidence boost heading into the tournament.”