Photo by Gerald Castillo
Bobcats split doubleheader in 2019 debut
Texas State put its best foot forward on Friday, winning its first game of the 2019 season and nearly going the distance with a top-15 team in the NCAA in its second.
The Bobcats made their debut by defeating Liberty, 3-1 (25-13, 24-26, 25-21, 25-18) inside Strahan Arena, with freshman outside hitter Courtney Heiser earning a 13-kill, 10-dig double-double. With the first-game jitters out of the way, the maroon and gold moved on to its second opponent: No. 14 USC.
The Trojans escaped with the win, 3-1 (26-28, 25-15, 25-17, 25-23), but Texas State proved a worthy opponent.
“Our kids played a heck of a match,” head coach Karen Chisum said. “And that's not our strongest ones we can put in. I'm so proud of all of them because different ones stepped up at different times.”
Sophomore outside hitter Janell Fitzgerald was ruled out for both matches with an ankle injury. Senior libero Micah Dinwiddie was limited with a wrist injury, beginning the match against the Trojans on the bench.
It didn’t slow the Bobcats down at the start. The team scored the first point of the match as USC committed an attacking error. Neither side gained more than a one-point lead until senior outside hitter Cheyenne Huskey and sophomore middle blocker Jillian Slaughter rejected a shot from the Trojans to go up 9-7.
USC countered, building a 20-17 lead before Texas State called its first timeout. The Trojans played a bit sloppier out of the break, committing two more attacking errors as the hosts used a 4-0 run to take back the lead. The score was knotted up six more times before Huskey scored the final two kills to take the 28-26 win, both coming on assists from sophomore setter Emily DeWalt.
“I think in the first set, our blocking was really good, we had a lot of good setups,” Huskey said. “And then it just fell out in the second, third and fourth game.”
The visitors cut down on their errors, dropping the total from nin in the first frame to three in the second, and raised its attacking rate to .394 percent. The Bobcats’, meanwhile, dropped to .152 percent and USC took the game, 25-15.
The Trojans continued to roll in the third set, jumping out to a 12-4 lead at the start. But Texas State began to find its groove again in the latter half of the frame, keeping pace with USC and not allowing the visitors to extend the lead before they won the game, 25-17.
The hosts fell behind 4-2 in the fourth set, allowing two aces from the Trojans. Huskey turned to sophomore outside hitter Kenedi Rutherford — who had six kills in the match thus far — and asked what she was doing with her hitting patterns.
“She said she was going low and in between the splits as hard as possible,” Huskey said. “So (Rutherford and Heiser) mixing up the hitting arrangements and everything just helped us out tremendously.”
Huskey scored on a dish from sophomore defensive specialist Kaylie Koenen to tie the game at 8-8. Koenen took the lead for the Bobcats with an ace on the next play. Huskey extended with another feed from Koenen. Texas State rode the momentum to a 19-12 lead.
USC steeled up, though. The Trojans chipped away at the lead, taking it down to two points. The hosts responded with three unanswered points to go up 23-18, but they wouldn’t score again.
The visitors tied the frame for the third time at 25-25. Dinwiddie set up Huskey on the final two plays of the match, but both spikes fell out of bounds. USC secured the match, 3-1.
“The thing is, if we don't have a middle attack, they're going to double up on Cheyenne all night long. You know, she got tired. I'm gonna tell you, I think she got tired,” Chisum said. “But you know, we gotta be more in Cheyenne Huskey, I can tell you that.”
Huskey finished the night with 13 kills, followed by 10 each from Rutherford and Heiser — who picked up another double-double with 11 digs. DeWalt handed out 36 assists as freshman middle blocker Allie Smylie rejected four shots. The match saw the fourth-most attendants in program history, with 2,583 inside Strahan Arena.
Texas State is now 1-1 to begin the season. The team will return to action Saturday, when the Bobcats take on Northern Iowa at home, beginning at 7 p.m.
Huskey said the team will need to rest up to make sure its ready.
“UNI is up there with them, also. A big (Division I school) that usually makes it to the tournament,” Huskey said. “So having this game tonight and seeing what the competition was like tonight is going to give us a better chance to stick with them and know what we're going up against.”