San Antonio – St. Mary’s wasn’t able to turn the upset it was bidding for against the undefeated, No. 1 team in conference but it definitely didn’t give it away easily in a 3-0 loss against Arkansas-Fort Smith.
The Rattlers (17-10, 6-6 in conference) were hoping to pull a victory in their do-or-die mentality over the Lions (24-2, 13-0 in conference) to heighten their chances of making the Heartland Conference Tournament, but the stacked Lions only added to their undefeated tally in three Saturday, taking the match 25-23, 25-19 and 25-16.
The Lions were shaken by the Rattlers in the first as they charged as a team not to be underestimated in tight and intense game that included nine tied scores and five lead changes. But the Lions overturned the possible deficit to claim the first by just two points in a set that had them at a lead by only as much as three. The Rattlers held the lead over the Lions until the 12th point.
Visibly taken from the first win, the Lions built upon and gained momentum in both the second and third sets that saw a continued fury featuring hard, accurate kills and diving saves. As most of the Lions’ court was filled with height, their kills determined to be the downfall of the Rattlers’ upset hope. Headed by the conference’s leader in hitting percentage, kills, blocks and a player who leads the conference with five Heartland Conference Player of the Week Awards, Lion Heidi Luks brought her best against St. Mary’s to record 20 kills for the day’s high to go along with 22.5 points. The conference’s third-leading hitter and ninth-leading kills artist, Lion Jordan Pickett banked 16 points and had 13 kills Saturday.
On the Rattlers’ court, Kelsey Huber (So., San Antonio) was at the forefront in kills, leading with 10 kills for 11 points, followed by Jenna Paul (Fr., Alvin, Texas) and Taylor Obermiller (So., San Antonio) with seven kills apiece. Libero Victorria Martinez (So., Arlington, Texas) led with 13 digs.
For a team with the perfect record at the top of the league, the Lions were forced into calling several timeouts in order regroup and saw a team that could give them trouble in the pending tournament for the title.
“We just came out to this game facing the idea that we just need to go out there and be intense and be focused,” says freshman setter Mikayla Bass (Coppell, Texas), “and play our game and not focus on the other side. And I think that relaxed us and made us play harder and not give them as many points.”
Bass, who will take over for graduating senior Allie Murray (San Antonio) who was honored Saturday for her past four years of superb play that includes holding spots in the St. Mary’s record book, has fed off the experience and teachings of Murray throughout the season. Prepping for next year when she is the Rattlers’ main setter, Bass recorded 16 assists against the Lions and had the Rattlers’ only two service aces, following Murray’s 19 assists for the match.
“I mean Allie’s got big shoes to fill,” says Bass of Murray, who is currently second for the most career assists in the program’s history. “She’s great and I’m going to miss the heck out of her but I’m confident. She’s done a lot to help me in getting to know the team and how we play and what to do. She’s done a great job of preparing me for next year so I think I’m ready.”
Knowing the chemistry and how to execute will be the Rattlers’ main goal for the remainder of the season as their final two games are against the conference’s second and third ranked teams, Dallas Baptist and St. Edward’s University.
The Rattlers’ first of their final pair of games with be against Dallas Baptist on Thursday in Dallas at 7 p.m.