HUNTSVILLE – It was not easy, but the Sam Houston State Bearkats walked out of Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum for the final time in 2018 with a win, sweeping past New Orleans, 3-0 (25-20, 25-20, 25-23) on Tuesday night.
The match served as Senior Night for the Bearkats’ (20-5, 12-1 SLC) three-member senior class of Taylor Cunningham, Madison Wallace and Jaclyn Ward and kept the Kats in striking distance of first place in the Southland Conference heading into Thursday’s battle at Stephen F. Austin.
The win is the 10th in a row for the Kats and gives them 20 victories on the season, their first 20-win campaign since 2012 and their 28th all-time.
Sam Houston hit just .095, was out-killed by a 36-31 margin and out-blocked by a 13.0-4.0 count; however, they kept other mistakes to a minimum while the Privateers (11-17, 5-8 SLC) hit just .062 and finished with five ball-handling errors, two blocking errors and a trio of service misfires.
Cunningham finished with 10 kills on the night, four each coming in the first and third sets, including the final point of the night on a kill that capped an 8-3 run that closed out the match after the Kats trailed 20-17 in the third. The senior middle blocker also added seven digs and a pair of blocks, while Wallace had a match-high 18 digs.
Ward totaled 23 assists and five digs, and Ashley Lewis turned in a solid night with seven kills on 22 swings with 11 digs and four total blocks.
Meanwhile, UNO got 11 kills and nine blocks from middle blocker Kaitlyn Grice; however, no other Privateer finished with more than Jordan Schumacher’s seven kills.
The opening set looked like a runaway in the home team’s favor as the Kats raced out to a commanding 19-9 lead before UNO got going, surging back to just a 21-20 deficit before Breanne Chausse delivered the third of her six kills to stop the run and spark a 4-0 Bearkat spurt that put them up 1-0 in the match.
Sam Houston never trailed in the second set, but were the beneficiaries of eight points via UNO service and ball-handling errors. That helped negate just eight kills by the Kats in the set and put Sam Houston up 2-0 midway through the match. They trailed for the majority of the third set and were still down 20-17 late before taking a key timeout.
A block from Amanda Gooch and Lewis followed out of the timeout, but it was a kill from Lewis that made it 22-19 which got the Kats going. Consecutive UNO attack errors followed to draw SHSU within a point and a kill from Cunningham one point later tied it at 22-22. The Kats then forced a pair of attack errors to get to a match-point try before the senior combo of Ward and Cunningham closed it out.
With the home schedule behind them, the Kats will start off their three-match road swing to end the season on Thursday when they travel to Nacogdoches to battle league-leading Stephen F. Austin. The match is set to tip off at 6:30 p.m. from Shelton Gym and will be aired on ESPN+.