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WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL: The Thunderbirds opened their first season in over 20 years with a three-set sweep victory over the Delaware State Hornets on Friday morning. SUU then dropped a hard-fought, five-set match in the second match of the afternoon, falling to Sam Houston State at Huntsville, Texas.
"I'm very pleased with today's outcome," head coach Debby Baker said. "We showed a lot of heart in that second game, but unfortunatly our inexperience got the better of us in game five."
SUU opened Game 1 with the first kill of the season as junior Jazmine Ma'afala placed a ball on the court off a set from fellow junior Brittney Clark. The 1-0 lead was quickly countered with a four-point rally by the Hornets turning the tide to 4-1 to Delaware State. Southern Utah came back with a run of its own, pulling together a 7-1 clip to regain the lead at 8-5. It wasn't until SUU led 15-14 later on in the set that the Thunderbirds held the lead for good, claiming the set 25-21 in the end.
Clark opened the second set with a service ace, one of 11 for the Thunderbirds on the day, to give SUU another opening lead. The advantage, once again, didn't hold for long as Southern Utah found itself down by four (11-7) later in the frame. However, a 9-5 run by the Thunderbirds tied the set (16-16) for the final time in the frame as SUU used the momentum to close out the set. A final kill by Cashaana Renfro, one of nine for the freshman in the game, punctuated the 25-21 victory for the T-Birds.
Ma'afala continued the first-point scoring trend with the opening kill of the third set as the team built a lead of 12-9 towards the midpoint of the game. The Hornets pulled together a counter swing, leading by as much as four (18-14) late in the set, but Southern Utah capitalized on four errors by DSU and a service ace by Ana Peleaz to bring the game to within one (20-19). SUU then found its zone, making the most of its opponents' errors and back-to-back kills, to string together six consecutive points and capture the 25-20 victory in the set.
Pelaez led all players with 13 kills during the match, with Renfro and Ma'afala just behind with nine each. Courtney Lelepali led Southern Utah with 21 digs, with Ma'afala and Clark finishing with nine.
In the second match of the day, SUU dropped the first two sets to Sam Houston State, 25-16 and 25-23, before gutting out a tough 32-30 win in the third set to push the game to a fourth set. The Thunderbirds jumped out to a 2-0 lead early in the game before SHSU came back to tie the game at 9-9. However, it was then that the T-Birds ripped off three consecutive points to take a 12-9 lead and never looked back, taking the set 25-19.
The teams then went to a decisive fifth set, but SUU fell behind early 2-0 before locking the score at 7-7 later in the frame. The Thunderbirds were unable to climb any higher, committing five errors down the stretch to eventually fall 15-7 in the set.
Peleaz continued to lead Southern Utah with 24 kills on a team-high 68 attempts. Ma'afala also recorded double digit kills with 10, while Brittny Clark (27) and Kylie Yardley (15) tallied double digits in assists. Lelepali, Peleaz and Ma'afala each recorded double digit digs with 19, 16 and 10, respectively.
"Ana (Pelaez) has been amazing during this tournament," Baker said. "She has really taken control during each game. I think we match up well with the other teams tomorrow and will have a legitimate shot against each of them."
Southern Utah will open today with Texas Pan American, followed by an afternoon match with Louisiana-Lafayette.