HUNTSVILLE – The Sam Houston State Bearkats went toe-to-toe with Drake in both teams’ season opener on Friday night, but the Bulldogs were able to edge out each of the first two sets before closing out in the third for a 3-0 (26-24, 31-29, 25-20) win at the Sam Houston Invitational at Johnson Coliseum.
Neither team was able to get more than a four-point lead at any point of the first two sets, but Drake (1-0), who returns five starters off of a 23-win team from a year ago, ran off four consecutive points to steal the first set before outlasting the Kats (0-1) in a marathon second set to take control of the match.
Sam Houston kept alive 86 digs and had five players total at least 11 digs in the match, outdigging a Drake team that averaged better than 21 digs per set in 2017; however, the Bulldogs made their night at the net, outblocking the Bearkats by a 14-6 margin.
Caroline Sheaff led a balanced Sam Houston attack with 10 kills on 35 swings, while getting her hand on four of the Kats’ six blocks. Taylor Cunningham added five blocks and a career-best 16 digs, but was held to just seven kills on .034 hitting against the Bulldog front line.
Jaclyn Ward and Madilyn Miles split setting duties with each registering a double-double, Ward’s coming by virtue of 22 assists and 13 digs while Miles added 15 assists and 11 digs of her own. The Kats also got 16 digs from libero Addison Miller and 15 from Madison Wallace.
For Drake, Grace Schofield finished with 11 of their 42 kills for the match, while all-MVC outside hitter Cathryn Cheek finished with just seven scores on 33 swings. In all, the Kats held Drake to just .171 hitting on the night.
Sam Houston will look to flip the script on Saturday with a pair of matches at Johnson Coliseum, starting at 12:30 p.m. against Texas Southern. They will then battle Bethune-Cookman in the finale of the weekend round-robin at 6:30 p.m.
Neither team opened the match on fire defensively in the opening set, despite Schofield registering six of her 11 kills on the frame for Drake. The Bulldogs held an early 4-1 lead, but that would be the largest of the set as the Kats knotted it up at 5-5 on a kill from Wallace that got the Kats going. Later on two kills from Sheaff were sandwiched around consecutive service aces by Amanda Gooch, giving the Kats their largest lead of the set at 13-10. Neither team would lead by more than two the rest of the way, but it was the Kats getting first crack at set point after a service error from Cheek made it 24-22. But after a Drake time out, the Bulldogs reeled off four consecutive points to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
Sam Houston had a chance to knot it up in the second set, and outkilled Drake 18-14 in the set; however, the Bulldogs held the Kats to just .045 hitting behind eight denials at the net. Breanne Chausse and Sheaff each had four scores in the frame but again neither team was able to spread out the score at any point. Sam Houston trailed 19-16 late in the set before reeling off a run of four of five points, tying it up at 20-20 on the first of five kills on the night by Ashley Lewis. Still, Drake won the race to a set-point try at 24-22 before the Kats fought it off with three consecutive points to secure a set-point chance of their own. But Drake got a kill from Emily Plock to even it up at 26-26 and the teams then traded points the rest of the way until a kill rom Gillian Gergen and a Bulldog block finished it out, 31-29.
Again the Kats outkilled the Bulldogs in the third set, but once again it was the Drake front line that proved to be the difference with a 5-2 margin in blocks. Sam Houston opened up quickly to a 10-5 lead behind scores from Lewis, Sheaff and Chausse, but the Bulldogs managed to chip away and eventually took a 16-15 lead on the strength of a 6-1 run. That run grew to as much as 13-3 later on in the set to give Drake a 23-17 advantage before the Bulldogs eventually closed it out, 25-20, despite hitting just .196 in the frame.