TCU volleyball starts strong, runs out of gas late against Texas Tech in NIVC Final Four

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The Horned Frogs started fast, winning the first set, but the Texas Tech Red Raiders proved to be too much for TCU in the National Invitational Volleyball Championship semifinals Thursday in Fort Worth, as TCU fell 1-3: (25-23, 17-25, 24-26, 25-15.)

“Not the way we wanted to end our season, but I think our team made a great run here at the end of the NIVC, played really hard,” Director of Volleyball Jill Kramer said. “They played really great defense tonight, it was really hard for us to find a kill.”

Junior middle blocker Anna Walsh and junior outside hitter Lexi MacLean led TCU in kills with 13 each, senior setter Lamprini Konstantinidou led the Horned Frogs in assists with 26, and MacLean also led TCU in digs with 23 with first-year libero Dani Dennison right behind her with 22.

TCU outside hitter Lexi MacLean hits against Texas Tech’s front row. Photo by Cristian ArguetaSoto

TCU and Texas were neck and neck in the opening set with the match tied at 22. The Horned Frog defense coaxed back-t0-back errors out of the Red Raiders to earn set point at 24-22, and TCU outside hitter Abigail Buckingham finished off the first set with a kill off a set up from outside hitter Ashleigh Martin.

The Horned Frogs overcame four service errors to take a 1-0 lead in the match.

“I think we spread the ball around in the first set for the most part, scoring on the slide really well,” Kramer said. “Lex [MacLean] did a great job in the first, and we did a good job battling back and forth, siding out as well as serving very tough when it was in.”

In the second set, TCU jumped out ahead to an early 13-10 lead promoting Tech to call a timeout. Following the timeout, the Red Raider closed out the set on a 15-4 run to finish the set with a 25-17 victory.

“They called a timeout, and they came and scored two, I almost called timeout, didn’t and called it on the third point they won,” Kramer said. “If I could get that back, I would’ve called a timeout one point earlier, I don’t know if it would’ve made a difference.”

Ultimately, Texas Tech’s defense extended points longer and made the Horned Frogs work.

“Tech did a better job of blocking,” Kramer said. “Their blocking was very good tonight, they were very feisty on defense and did a great job of getting the ball up.”

After losing in the second, TCU looked well on its way to regaining the lead and coming away with the third set, taking a 24-20 lead. Texas Tech wasn’t faced and held off TCU on four consecutive set points, winning six points in a row to close out the set, 26-24.

Tech’s blocking game came alive in the third, as they turned away seven Horned Frog shots.

“We were up 24-21 then I called a timeout, and honestly, I thought we passed the ball well, made the right decisions setting,” Kramer said. “They did a good job of blocking, and our coverage needed to be a lot better. I would not tell my team not to be aggressive at that point. Tech just made some plays.”

Entering the fourth set, the Horned Frogs didn’t show signs of being rattled after dropping a set in which they held a significant advantage.

“I didn’t think it would have that big of an effect because this team battles,” Kramer said. “We just went through the same thing at UNT, it was back and forth with there being tight ones that we lost.”

Unfortunately for TCU, the Red Raiders run continued in the fourth, as Texas Tech won the first seven points. The closest the Horned Frogs could get after that was five, trailing 10-5, but the Red Raiders didn’t let up, winning the fourth and final set by 10, 25-15.

“Maybe it did have an effect, that’s volleyball,” Kramer said. “If you let an opponent go on long-point runs, it’s going to be hard to catch up. That’s what happened in the fourth.”

Konstantinidou said Texas Tech’s serve played a key role in their effectiveness in the fourth set. Kramer said the Red Raider’s defense made it difficult to get going.

“I think they did a better job on our slide, and we’ve done a good job lately of moving the ball around, but Atwood was taking up a pretty big part of the net over there,” Kramer said.

Texas Tech outside hitter Chandler Atwood played a key role in the blocking and led the match in kills with 19. Tech made it tougher on one of TCU’s best.

“Abigail [Buckingham] had a little more difficulty, they did a good job on her, and their defenders were staying deep,” Kramer said.

Buckingham finished the match with six kills. She was key in TCU’s opening round victory over Wyoming, totaling 19 kills.

“I think it was more of if they didn’t block the ball they were touching it, slowing it down, and then getting the ball in a lot,” Kramer said. “They made us continue to keep transitioning. We had long rallies going back and forth.”

However, TCU looked at their NIVC run with a glass half full, despite coming up short.

“We as seniors are so grateful its December 7th, and we’re still playing,” Konstantinidou said. “This program had never played that late until now.”

TCU setter Lamprini Konstantinidou leads the alma mater in front of Director of Volleyball Jill Kramer and the TCU coaching staff. Photo by Cristian ArguetaSoto

On a team with nine true or redshirt freshmen, Kramer said the NIVC experience was quite beneficial.

“It’s allowed us to get some players who are new to the program to be a part of postseason and see what it’s like to continue to play,” Kramer said. “Our goal is to be in a position to host in the postseason, in the NCAA’s. It’s nice for us here at TCU to know what that looks like.”