Without putting too much importance on the outcome of Wednesday’s night Jayhawk Conference opener, the match stood as an important early season gauge on the 2016 version of Barton volleyball.
Sure, Barton had defeated the Kansas Wesleyan JV to officially open the season the night before. But the match with Cloud County was the true opener for the Cougars and new coach Brandon Stephenson.
It was another successful opener.
Barton started the conference season with a 25-19, 18-25, 25-23, 25-20 win over the Thunderbirds at the Barton Gym.
“It’s good to get that first conference win,” Coach Stephenson said. “It allows the girls to relax a bit and lets us see things we need to work on. We were not perfect by any means.”
It was more than a conference win for the Cougars. It was a bit of a statement win as well – albeit a small statement.
Cloud is a team that has finished third each of the last two years and projected fourth this year. The Cougars were picked sixth in the preseason Jayhawk poll and hadn’t been in the top half since 2013.
In fact, the 2015 season ended for Barton in Concordia. So every small statement helps.
“For the sophomores it was a bit of redemption after losing three to them last year,” Coach Stephenson said. “Cloud is a good team. It allowed us to see where are in conference and see what we need to work on to take the next step in the conference.”
One of those small statements came at the conclusion of the first set when Barton scored the final four points of the set to close it out. Freshman Kelsie Antcliff topped off the win with a service ace.
“The biggest thing is we want to be that team to close no matter what the score is,” Coach Stephenson said. “Can we make the run at the end? Can we close it out? We did that.”
Barton made yet another small statement in the third set. After dropping the second set, the Cougars fell behind in the third set as well. Barton turned the tide midway through the set with a pair of aces from Nathalia Gouveia to take a 14-13 lead. Gouveia started a 4-0 run with a kill down the line.
The Cougars built a four-point lead before finally closing out the Thunderbirds when an Antcliff block gave Barton the 25-23 win in the crucial set.
Barton stormed out of the gates in the fourth set, jumping to a 6-1 lead. The Cougars looked to have it wrapped up by taking seven of eight points for a 20-11 lead late in the set.
Cloud manage to fight back but Barton coasted to the 25-20 win in the set and secure the match.
“That last set was about getting that winning mentality,” Coach Stephenson. “We are having to build that and say hey, ‘we know what it takes’. We are realizing that when we hit bumps in the road we need to stick together. We took it upon ourselves to close it out.”
The Cougars produced 48 kills to just 19 errors on the night and had 12 service aces. Gouveia led the Cougars as the sophomore from Brazil had 16 kills and six aces. Brazil freshman Monique Oliveira added 10 kills to just two errors and finished with 13 digs.
Sophomore Lydia Konrade had 15 digs while freshman setter Carolina Goncalves led the Cougars with 38 assists. Sophomore Hannah Beam finished with eight kills and three blocks.
Now it is back home of sorts for Coach Stephenson as the Cougars head to Colorado and Lamar Community College for classic play this weekend. Stephenson was the head man at Lamar the past three seasons.
Barton will open with Trinidad State (Colo) and host Lamar on Friday then play Frank Phillips (Okla) and Trinidad State on Saturday.
The Cougars will return to Jayhawk play Wednesday at Dodge City.