Sports writer Joe McCurdy covers the early performance and current stance of Tulsa volleyball
Coached by Ryan Wills, the Tulsa Women’s Volleyball team has been hot and cold to start off their 2022 campaign. Currently standing at 6-5 after wins over The University of Texas at El Paso and Oral Roberts University, the team is facing an extremely ambitious non-conference schedule with two of their losses coming from the #1 seeded Nebraska Cornhuskers and the very prestigious Pepperdine Waves. With only three seniors returning from last year’s roster, the team is relying heavily on young talent to help them succeed this season. They continue to rely on the experience of their outside hitters, as senior Cassidy leads the team with 113 kills so far on the season and Senior Aysu Dalogullari has 47 of her own kills. But it’s not just the senior show for the Lady Hurricane, Sophomore Rachel Brown (MB) and Freshman Arianna Mongare (MB) are a one-two punch at the middle blocker position, combining for 27 blocks and 54 kills.
After a lackluster 2021 season, ending the season 14-16 with a 4-game losing streak and finishing 7th in the American Conference, Tulsa is looking to refocus and re-energize this Women’s Volleyball roster. They have their eyes set on competing for a Conference title and an NCAA Tournament Bid, which they haven’t done since 2012. They’re looking to hang banners in Reynolds once more and give Tulsa fans a reason to cheer for their team.
This week, Tulsa was slated to play #14 Baylor, McNeese State and Sam Houston for their 4th non-conference tournament of the season. Up first was #14 Baylor, who are 9-2 on the season with big wins against #3 Wisconsin and California – Santa Barbara with their only two losses coming from #5 Minnesota and Pepperdine. Tulsa was coming in as an underdog but also riding the wave of a 3-game win streak so there was hope for a battle between the Golden Hurricane and the Bears. The first set was highly contested for the majority of the game, the score staying within arm’s reach throughout the game, but Tulsa could never retain the lead and lost the first set 25-20. Set two is always a decisive set: it’s where the rest of the match is determined, whether you can fight for a 4-5 set match or if you’re going to get swept 3-0. In Tulsa’s case, it was the latter, as they were unable to keep up with the high-powered Baylor Bear attack, losing the second set 25-18. At this point, Tulsa was struggling to stop the bleeding and did their best to go kill for kill with the Bears, but there was little they could do as the red-hot Baylor Bears swept the Golden Hurricane in 3 sets. Senior Kayley Cassidy finished the game leading Tulsa in kills (15), aces (1) and blocks (1) as Cassidy continued to be the weapon from the outside as she was expected to be.
Looking to bounce back from Baylor and hopefully avenge an earlier loss in the season, Tulsa was to face McNeese State, a team Tulsa lost to in a 5-set match just a little over two weeks prior. Trying to come back on a positive note after a sweep loss to Baylor, Tulsa came out wanting to prove the loss in the beginning of the season was a fluke. And they came out and did exactly that, winning the first two sets 25-23 and closing the sweep out with a 25-13 set three. No surprise to anyone, Cassidy continued to lead the team in kills with 19, and it was much more of a team effort, as they got twelvefold the number of blocks as they did the previous game.
With one sweep against them and one for them, the weekend could only get more exciting if there were a five-set thriller, and that’s what the Sam Houston vs. Tulsa match was. After winning the first set by a dominating score of 25-16, the rest of the match continued back and forth as Tulsa lost the second set 26-24 and re-grouped to win the third set 25-23. SHU forced the fifth set after winning the fourth 25-23. Losing the only other five-setter they’ve been in this year, Tulsa was determined to close it out, and that’s just what they did, winning the fifth and final set 15-8 and finishing the week 7-5. Sophomore outside hitter Bailey Rowe had her moment to shine in this match, leading the Golden Hurricane in kills with 23, with Cassidy following closely behind with 19 of her own. They now get ready to start their conference schedule as they play ECU for their home opener this Friday, Sept. 23.