Perfection intact, Kats outlast Islanders

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HUNTSVILLE – Sam Houston State has found an assortment of ways to win. They did it again Saturday.

The Bearkats outlasted A&M-Corpus Christi, 3-2 (33-31, 22-25, 25-21, 20-25, 17-15) to win its second five-setter in the last four matches. The win continues the first-place squad’s best start to Southland Conference in team history. Sam Houston is now 13-9 overall and 9-0 in league play.

Jordyn Vaugh and Taylor Cunningham each struck for 20 kills while Brooke White added 18. The Kats trailed by three points on a pair of occasions in the fifth set but knotted things up at 10-all on a Cunningham kill and White service ace.

The teams would go back and forth, tying things up four more times in the frame before Courtney Littlefield and Madison Wallace used a block assist to set up the match point. Wallace provided the final swing, capping first meeting between the two since last year’s Southland Tournament Championship.

The Islanders (9-12, 6-4 SLC) came out strong in the opening frame but the Bearkats were relentless, overcoming a three-point deficit while facing set point at 24-21. Three-straight A&M-Corpus Christi attack errors, including a block from Jaclyn Ward and Cunningham, gave the Kats a 25-24 edge.

The Islanders staved off five Sam Houston set points, creating one of their own that was denied by a Vaughn kill. Four points later, Ward and Cunningham provided Sam Houston the victory with the block.

The opening set was a perfect synopsis in a match that included 36 tied scores and 19 lead changes. The Islanders responded in the second set, hitting .364 while receiving five kills from Brittany Gilpin to tie the match at 1-1 with a 25-22 win. Cunningham led the Kats with five kills as the team hit .308.

Sam Houston answered out of the intermission, grabbing the third set, 25-22. Despite hitting just .182, Sam Houston used three blocks and 21 digs to limit the Islanders to a .106 attack percentage. With the match tied at 19-19, the Kats captured four of the next five points and ended the frame on a kill from White and set-closing service ace courtesy of Addison Miller.

A&M-Corpus Christi pushed the match to five, pulling away late after the team’s sat deadlocked at 13-13. From there, the Islanders struck for three straight before staving off a late Sam Houston rally and scoring six of the set’s last seven points for the 25-20 win.

Sam Houston returns to action on Thursday, opening a brief two-match road trip at Northwestern State. First serve is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. The team closes out the trip at Central Arkansas on Saturday at noon.

QUOTEABLES:
Head coach Brenda Gray on the back-and-forth win…
“We knew it was going to be tough even though they have lost some recently. Corpus is never a push over. Their offense is extremely quick and if our serving isn’t as crisp and we’re accustomed to, we’ll get ourselves in trouble. That’s what happened early.”

Head coach Brenda Gray on the overall team performance…
“I think Courtney did some good things tonight. She was busy up there. At the beginning, she was way too high and we told her to go low and she got a lot more blocks. I think Madison on the right side … the last two points of the game, she’s blocking Gilpin. That’s not easy. We can’t lose sight of the other individuals who did some good things. Jaclyn had to run herself to death today. I thought Addison had a good day today. I think Jordyn and Taylor were good today. I don’t know that anyone was great and we had to fight a little harder.”

Head coach Brenda Gray on the first match vs. the Islanders since last year’s title game…
“We talked about that we can’t go there. Whether we like it or not, it’s a new year. We graduated five players. You keep it in the back of your head but at the same time but they are a different look too.”

Taylor Cunningham on the thrilling win against A&M-Corpus Christi…
“It was definitely ups and downs as you can tell. I am glad we pulled through in the end. That’s what we’ve been talking about this year is finishing at the end. I feel like we’ve done that. We’ve managed to win and we want to continue to win.”

Jordyn Vaughn on the momentum of the win against the Islanders…
“I think this makes us realize this is our conference. HBU last week, we knew it. This week, we really feel like it’s ours. That championship game, we felt like we had it. I personally never play well against Corpus so it was a big one for me too. It was nice to overcome that.”