Cougars push Tulsa to brink, sweep SMU

Maybe it was the confidence pulled from taking a tough Tulsa Golden Hurricane team to the full five matches, but the Cougars were out of their proverbial cage Sunday, sweeping the SMU Mustangs in three sets.

“We came out from the beginning ready to play,” said head coach Kaddie Platt. “Our pass game was really good, and I think we stayed really focused.”

The home stand started Friday night against C-USA leader Tulsa, and the Cougars showed dominance in the blocking game and defense.

Five Cougars racked up double-digits in digs, with sophomore libero Natalie Keck leading the charge with 23 followed by senior outside hitter Katie Norris with 19. The home team amassed 20 total block assists compared to Tulsa’s two.

UH put up impressive offensive numbers with 53 total kills, including 16 in the first set. Norris led the way with 15 kills, followed by senior middle blocker Chandace Tryon’s 14. Freshmen middle blocker Emily Howard and outside hitter Shelby Vance chimed in with eight kills, and senior right side hitter Stephanie Nwachukwu rounded out the evening with seven.

UH won the first set 25-21 before dropping the next two sets 25-18 and 25-19. The Cougars stormed back to win the fourth set 25-23, forcing a high-drama fifth set. It was the fifth time this season the Cougars have pushed an opposing team to five sets.

The winner-takes-all fifth set went back and forth, with Tulsa and UH being separated by no more than two points before Tulsa emerged the battered victor with a score of 15-13.

“We stayed in it for the majority of the game,” Platt said after the match.

By Sunday, the Cougars were still feeding off of the energy they had amassed from their battle against Tulsa.

“I think that really lifted our spirits; it brought our competitive spirits out,” said senior setter Abby Simmons. “We were hungry for a win.”

UH stormed out of the gates, all but owning the net game with 22 blocks, their third-straight 20-plus block performance of the season. Simmons led the match with 36 assists. A team attack percentage of .322 was enough to outmuscle the Mustangs on both ends of the court.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Simmons on the clean sweep against SMU. “It shows we’re disciplined and competing and fighting hard the entire game.”

The scrappy UH defense held SMU to less than 20 points in the first two matches, with scores of 25-17 and 25-15.

“It’s a team-system defense,” Platt said. “It’s not just individuals doing things.”

The third and final set proved more competitive as there were 15 total lead changes or ties throughout the match. The Mustang’s two service errors to end the match would seal the win for the Cougars.

“We’re gaining confidence as we go,” Platt said. “We’re working on things one point at a time, mental and physical.”

The Cougars will take on conference foes Tulane at 7 p.m. Friday and UTEP at 1 p.m. Sunday. Both matches will be at the Athletics/Alumni Center.

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