It's on its best performance streak of the season and are coming off perhaps their best win of the 2019 season, but UL’s volleyball team isn’t taking anything for granted.
That’s especially true, said coach Heather Mazeitis-Fontenot, since this weekend’s opponent for two matches is a state rival and has little to play for except pride.
The Cajuns (10-15, 6-6), winners of five of their past six Sun Belt Conference matches, travel to face UL-Monroe at 6 p.m. Friday and then host the Warhawks (11-17, 1-11) at noon Sunday in the league’s geographical-pairings weekend. Sunday’s match is also UL’s final home outing of the season and will include senior day activities before first serve.
“We know these matches are important and we don’t have to keep repeating that over and over,” Mazeitis-Fontenot said. “No matter what the records are, we have to coach consistency, keep everyone in the same mindset that we’ve been able to have the last three weeks.”
UL’s only loss since mid-October was a narrow 3-2 Friday home setback against Texas-Arlington, a team the Cajuns beat on the road earlier this year. However, UL rallied from that Friday loss to post a surprising 3-2 Sunday win over Texas State, which has already locked up the Sun Belt’s West Division and held a top-35 national RPI ranking entering the weekend.
“You’re always glad to beat the No. 1 team in the conference,” Mazeitis-Fontenot said. “We’re in a stage where we’re getting better and better, and we’re doing it at the right time. We’re peaking right now, and I hope we can continue it. They’re growing as a group and it’s fun to see.”
UL continues to top the Sun Belt in defense, leading the league in digs, and the Cajuns have improved from a dead-last ranking in hitting percentage earlier this year to the middle of the pack offensively. UL stands sixth in the league with a .204 hitting percentage in league play, an increase of nearly 100 points from the start of the conference season.
Junior Hali Wisnoskie had a career-high 18 kills in the UTA loss and then topped that with 25 kills against Texas State, including eight in the fourth set when the Cajuns rallied from a deficit to force a fifth set. Only two players in the Sun Belt have more kills in a single match this year.
Wisnoskie, riding a streak of six straight double-digit kill matches, got help from freshman Celeste Darling, who had 13 kills without an error against TSU.
“I can’t say enough about the way Hali’s playing,” said Mazeitis-Fontenot after the returning All-Sun Belt pick’s struggles early in the year. “She was our go-to Sunday; we were able to get the ball to her over and over Sunday and she handled it.”
The Sunday win, plus the five-set match against UTA even in the loss, put the Cajuns in control of their destiny in aiming for the second spot in the West Division. UL has two road matches at Arkansas State and Little Rock — teams they beat 3-0 at home two weekends ago — after the ULM series, and winning out would lock up second place and a top-four seed in the Nov. 21-24 Sun Belt tournament. The top four seeds avoid opening-day play.
UL, though, still needs one win in its last four matches to lock up a spot in the eight-team postseason tournament, and Mazeitis-Fontenot said that won’t be easy even though ULM has lost five straight conference matches and lost 3-0 to both TSU and UTA last weekend. The teams split last year’s matches.
“Monroe always plays us tough,” she said. “That in-state rivalry thing is alive and well when it comes to these two teams.”