TCU middle blocker Anna Walsh spikes the ball past the Wyoming front line. Photo courtesy of GoFrogs.com

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The Horned Frog volleyball team lived to see another day, sweeping through its first round match in the National Invitational Volleyball Championship Thursday, (28-26),(25-21), and (26-24).

While TCU missed its original goal of making the NCAA Tournament for a third year in a row, it refocused quickly.

“I do think this team had really high expectations, and to have to reevaluate and to have to have another goal is tough to do sometimes, but they did a really good job of it,” Director of Volleyball Jill Kramer said. “They have all been fired up to be in the gym and for the season to continue.”

One player specifically took her game to another level, redshirt first-year outside hitter Abigail Buckingham. The San Antonio native finished the match with a team-high 19 kills.

“She’s in tournament mode,” Kramer said.  “She’s used to being the go-to and putting the team on her shoulders and saying let’s do this.”  

Buckingham said focusing on the team is part of her motivation.

“Our team was so focused when we walked in the gym because we’re playing for our seniors since this is some of their last time playing volleyball,” Buckingham said. “We play every point for them right now, we want to see another day of volleyball.”

TCU outside hitter Abigail Buckingham hits the ball past the Wyoming front line in the first round of the NIVC. Photo courtesy of GoFrogs.com

The first set was a back-and-forth affair between TCU and Wyoming, with the Cowgirls holding the largest lead in the frame of just four points, 10-6. As the set was winding, Cowgirl middle blocker Jackie McBride helped power Wyoming to a 20-17 lead, but the Horned Frogs wouldn’t go away. They took a 21-20 lead after four straight attacks from outside hitter Lexi MacLean.   After both teams exchanged counterpunches, TCU finished off the frame with back-to-back kills from outside hitters MacLean and Ashleigh Martin.

TCU’s sole All-Big 12 selection, middle blocker Anna Walsh, and Buckingham led the Horned Frogs in kills to open the match with five a piece. MacLean was right behind them with three. TCU was able to emerge victorious in the first set with just one ace by setter Lamprini Konstantinidou and three service errors.

The second set was more of the same until Wyoming reached a 17-14 advantage. TCU responded to the deficit by ripping off eight straight points to claim a 22-17 lead. Buckingham and Walsh combined to put down five kills during the run with three coming from Buckingham and two from Walsh.

“I think our defense and serve-receive really picked up in the second set, and the coaches did a really good job fixing the holes we had in the first set,” Buckingham said.

The Cowgirls mounted a comeback to come as close three, 24-21, but the Horned Frogs finished off the second set on a slam from Buckingham to win 25-21.

After the break, Wyoming raced out to a sizable eight-point advantage, 11-3, prompting TCU Director of Volleyball Jill Kramer to call a timeout. The Horned Frogs began the period with three consecutive errors by Martin, MacLean, and Walsh. However, TCU went on a run of its own, winning seven points in a row and then taking a few more after a kill from Cowgirl outside hitter Emily Lewis to trim the Wyoming advantage to two, 14-12.

As the third set wound down, both teams were neck-and-neck until the very end. The set was tied at 23, and Wyoming reached set point first on a kill from McBride, but Buckingham came to the rescue for TCU, sending the set to a win-by-two scenario. The Horned Frogs won the next two points with Buckingham finishing the match with a block on Wyoming’s Austin.

Kramer liked the fight her group showed to close out the match.

“I think it shows how much our team has grown,” Kramer said. “After the beginning of the season, I think we struggled with bouncing back, so it was good to see we could handle that better again. We just believed we’re in that mode, more of a rhythm with the lineup.”

With the victory, the Horned Frogs move on to the Round of 16 in the NIVC, taking advantage of the tournaments return from a 22-year hiatus in 1995.

“We have this opportunity in front of us, so I think we’re going to make the most out of it,” Buckingham said. 

The Horned Frogs will face the winner of North Texas and Oral Roberts Friday at the University of North Texas. First serve is set for 7 p.m.