By now, UL’s volleyball team should be used to playing against strong opposition.
Heading into this weekend’s Sun Belt Conference home openers, and into their first home matches in almost a month, the Ragin’ Cajuns have faced opponents holding a combined 76-35 record over the last three weekends.
That’s why coach Heather Mazeitis-Fontenot was more than happy that her team snapped a seven-match losing streak last Saturday at Texas-Arlington, less than 24 hours after a loss at league favorite Texas State.
“To get a win on the road against the Texas teams was huge, and we really needed it,” she said. “UTA’s picked to finish second on our side behind Texas State, so in the circumstances we were in, that as a really big one.”
Two even bigger ones come Friday and Saturday when the Cajuns (5-10, 1-1) welcome Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina. The Mountaineers (6-9, 2-0) may be struggling this year entering Friday’s 6:30 p.m. match at Earl K. Long Gym, but AppState reached last year’s Sun Belt championship match before losing to Texas State.
Coastal Carolina hasn’t been struggling at all. The Chanticleers (12-2, 2-0) were unbeaten this season before losing two of three matches at the Cy-Hawk Series in Iowa two weekends ago, and bounced back in a big way with easy wins over Georgia State and Georgia Southern last weekend. UL faces Coastal at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in its second weekend match.
The last time the Cajuns played at home was back on Sept. 10 in a 3-0 win over Southern Mississippi, and UL is on a four-match home winning streak despite the long stretch on the road. But Mazeitis-Fontenot said that Saturday’s 25-19, 18-25, 25-21, 25-16 win against the Mavericks resembled the home atmosphere in venerable Long Gym.
“UTA was almost like a home game,” she said. “We had so many fans there, families, alumni, a lot of recruits, way more Cajun fans there than Maverick fans. I was concerned about would our kids bounce back after a tough match at Texas State and not getting to Arlington until 2 a.m.
“We always talk about protecting the house, and this weekend we have to do that against the top two teams on the other side (the Sun Belt East Division). I’m glad we have them at home this year, but we have our work cut out for us.”
Appalachian State also swept the Georgia schools in 3-1 matches over the past weekend and comes into Friday’s regionally-televised match (CST) with one of the Sun Belt’s top one-two kill combinations. Senior Emma Longley and junior Kara Spicer have both been the Sun Belt’s Offensive Player of the Week this year and have teamed for 396 kills in 15 matches, with Longley leading the Sun Belt in kills (224). In addition, libero Emma Reilly is the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Week.
Meanwhile, Coastal leads the nation in aces (2.32 per set) and is 10th nationally in hitting percentage at .282, compared to UL’s .162 mark.
The Cajuns got a boost over the weekend from senior middle blocker Dree’Ana Abram, who posted a double-double with 16 kills and 10 digs to go with three blocks at UTA. The Marshall, Texas, product enjoyed her visit to her home state by averaging over three kills per set and had a .333 hitting mark in last weekend’s eight sets.
“Dree had a good weekend both blocking and attacking wise,” Mazeitis-Fontenot said. “I was really happy to see the way Kelsey Bennett played, and Hali (returning all-Sun Belt hitter Hali Wisnoskie) was much more steady than she has been. We were finding ways to get the ball down.”
Wisnoskie had 12 kills against both TSU and UTA and leads UL with 129 kills this year, but like many of the Cajuns her hitting percentage is down from last year. Only two front-line regulars – Abram (.207) and blocker Tia Jade Smith (.276) – are hitting over .200.
“We have to get better there,” Mazeitis-Fontenot said. “Against Texas State we had 18 overpasses where the other team puts the ball over the net on the first pass. That should be giving us a point, but we only scored on three of those 18. We have to have a better percentage.”
VOLLEYBALL: Appalachian State (6-9, 2-0) at UL (5-10, 1-1)
WHEN/WHERE: Friday, 6:30 p.m., Earl K. Long Gym
RADIO: none TV: Cox Sports (CST) ONLINE: ESPN+