PULLMAN, Wash. – Northwestern State faced the challenge that was UCLA head on and with overflowing resolve early in the week. They’ll look for even more of that vigor as they close the week far from home against a stacked field.
The Demons (0-4) make their farthest trip west in program history this weekend as they travel to Washington State to compete in the Cougar Challenge with the host Cougars, Tulsa and Drake.
NSU takes on the host Cougars in their first home match of the season set for 2 p.m. CT on Friday before facing Tulsa at 7 p.m. CT. The Demons close the weekend with Drake on Saturday at 5 p.m. CT. Live coverage links for the matches will be available at www.nsudemons.com.
The “challenge” designation is fitting for the weekend ahead as Washington State comes in ranked No. 17 in the nation, Tulsa enters with a win over Michigan State and loss to nationally ranked Arkansas and two of Drake’s three losses coming against top 25 teams.
“This is going to be a very difficult weekend,” head coach Sean Kiracofe said. “Washington State is ranked in the top 20 with three players scoring more than three points per set which is phenomenal. Tulsa has a new staff and return a lot from last year but they have one outside that is doing the majority of the work for them that is up near five points per set.
“And Drake is going to be a great test for us. They are a really disciplined team with a bunch of different weapons and honestly what we want to become this year and moving into next. That match is going to be one that we can really take a look at after the fact to learn more about our positioning and hopefully we are able to be better because of it.”
NSU played its best match of the season thus far on Monday afternoon against the Bruins. Although it ended in a 3-0 loss, the set score lines of 25-23, 25-17, 25-22 told a much more detailed story that the Demons had made quick improvements from the opening weekend at Mississippi State and proved their capabilities against top-flight teams.
The Demons will look to maintain that same intensity and mindset they had against Bruins as they travel to Pac-12 country this weekend and another demanding tournament weekend.
“That is part of the reason why I scheduled tougher this year,” Kiracofe said. “Knowing what we had returning and that we needed to take another step as far as consistency and level of play to push the top teams in the conference. The repetitiveness of going up against teams that will exploit where you may be just off here or there and learning from that and keeping it in your brain about staying at a high level as we get into conference.”
Through the first four matches the Demons have seen flutters of where they want to be when Southland Conference play begins.
The two transfers, Tessa Gerwig and Teresa Garza, not only share the same initials, they’ve also shared the majority of the offensive production thus far. Gerwig has had seven kills in all four matches and Garza leads the team with 30 kills after picking up her second double-digit kill effort against UCLA which was also her first NSU double-double.
Reaghan Thompson and Jordan Gamble have gotten off to solid starts with 24 combined blocks between the two and Ashlyn Svoboda ranks third in the conference in digs per set (4.08) in the early goings.
NSU has shown it has the pieces available and hopes the performance in the home opener earlier this week sparks even more confidence as it inches closer to the Sept. 21 conference opener at New Orleans.
“Coming into this week we were all pumped up about playing UCLA,” Garza said. “But at the end of the day its still just volleyball regardless of who’s on the other side of the net. Playing that big time school kind of gives you that comfort of knowing that you can compete with them just like any other team. Our preseason matches are preparing us well for conference and I think the way we can keep up with the big dogs I think shows us that we can be a force in the conference.”