On Tuesday, Sep. 24, the Southwestern University Pirates volleyball team will travel to Austin to face the Concordia Texas Tornados to complete this season's home and away series.
The Pirates won the season's first meeting at home in four sets (25-16, 23-25, 25-17, 25-18) with a strong defensive performance, holding Concordia to a .045 attack percentage. Southwestern middle blocker Riley Brantley finished with five of the Pirates' 14 block assists and led the team with 11 kills on a .259 hitting percentage.
Teammate Emma White matched her with 13.5 points, producing nine kills (.308), 12 digs, four aces, and a block assist.
Southwestern leads the all-time series 48-11, dating back to 1974. The Pirates won last year's meeting 3-2. Prior to that, the Pirates won both matches in 2015.
Pirates So Far
Southwestern opened conference play last weekend with a 3-1 record, defeating Schreiner (3-1), Centenary (3-0), and Dallas (3-0). The Pirates picked up the first set against No. 11-ranked Colorado College and fought hard through the next two before falling off the rails a little in the fourth and final set.
"All weekend, we played some of our cleanest volleyball match-to-match and set-to-set," Head Coach Don Flora said. "We had three quality wins and played Colorado College toe-to-toe and were even in the driver's seat at one point. We just need to learn how to finish."
With a young team still trying to acclimate itself to "The Pirate Way," the season has seemingly seen a different first year player step into the spotlight each week.
Outside Hitter Elleanna McGown carried most of the offensive burden through the season-opening Southwestern Fall Invitational, Middle Blocker Riley Brantley emerged the following week, and outside hitter Emma White opened up last weekend's SCAC Group A Divisional with career performances in back-to-back matches.
The key to the season isn't in the highlights, however. It's in the incremental improvement in the baseline of play that gives Southwestern hope to be a force in late October and November.
"Last weekend was a great step forward for us competing at a high level of execution and effort," Head Coach Don Flora said. "They're getting more comfortable with what they're seeing and understanding.
"Emma had one of her most complete weekends of the season. Serve receiving, defense, attacking, blocking, serving. It was a great sign of growth and she's getting better every match."
What to Watch vs. Concordia Texas
The Tornados are 11-3 on the season with losses to No. 3 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, California Lutheran, and Southwestern.
Concordia works to keep opponents off-balance with a strong serve—leading the American Southwest Conference in aces per set at 2.64, which ranks 47th nationally—led by Georgia Quiroz, who ranks first in the ASC with 28 aces.
When the serve doesn't directly put points on the board, it dilutes opponents' attacks with pressure, disorienting opponents from the outset to set the tone for a defense that limits opponents to a .112 hitting percentage, which leads the ASC and ranks 40th nationally.
Offensively, the Concordia attack funnels towards Tristyn Massey, a 5-foot-10 All-ASC senior outside hitter who is third in the ASC in total kills with 131, averaging 2.85 per set. She has 19 kills in two career matches against Southwestern.
The Pirates are currently stabilized by its back row with libero Ali Grona ranked third in the SCAC in digs per set at 4.53 and attackers who can also receive. Offensively, the Pirates have balance distribution with four hitters averaging 2.16 to 2.54 kills per set, led by Brantley, who has 127 kills on the season on a .262 hitting percentage.
If Southwestern can withstand that first punch from Concordia's serve, the offense should be able to flow through setter Katelyn Whitehead—who leads the SCAC in assists per set (9.24) and is 42nd in the nation in total assists (452)—against a Concordia team that is in the middle of the pack in the ASC in blocks and digs per set.