Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Volleyball spent the end of Week 5 of Sun Belt Conference play in Norfolk, Virginia, where they split a two-game set against the Old Dominion Monarchs.
Head coach Kristi Gray’s team entered the two-game set aiming to improve on a 3–5 record in conference play and a 12–10 overall record through three quarters of the season.
The Ragin’ Cajuns dropped the first match to Old Dominion on Thursday, Oct. 19 three sets to one (21-25, 19-25, 25-20, 18-25), but rebounded the following evening to even the season series by taking the second match three sets to one (25-18, 25-21, 23-25, 25-16).
Louisiana jumped out to a 9–5 lead in the first set, but the Monarchs wound up taking 17 of the final 25 rallies to put the Ragin’ Cajuns in an early deficit, taking Set 1 by a score of 25–21.
Three kills each from junior Shyia Richardson and senior Celeste Darling weren’t enough to secure the second set from Old Dominion, as Louisiana fell 25–19.
The Ragin’ Cajuns were able to steal Set 3 from the Monarchs behind 12 combined kills from Richardson, Darling, and 2022 All-Sun Belt Second-Team selection Cami Hicks before Old Dominion closed out the final set by scoring 18 of the final 28 points to secure their first win over Louisiana in their volleyball program’s history.
Louisiana’s attack zone was once again paced by the productive trio of Darling, Hicks, and Richardson, as the three combined for 32 kills and 36.5 points on the evening.
With her 11 points, Hicks, who ranks fourth in the Sun Belt with her .323 hitting percentage as of Oct. 21, topped at least 10 points in a match for the 10th time this season.
Juniors Mio Yamamoto and Siena DeCambra were busy in the backcourt with 13 and nine digs respectively.
In the second match between these two teams on Friday, Oct. 20, the Ragin’ Cajuns set the tone early and often. Louisiana never allowed Old Dominion to go on a run greater than two points in Set 1.
The Ragin’ Cajuns jumped out to a 12–0 lead in Set 2, and at one point led 15–2.
The Monarchs gave their best attempt at a comeback and pulled within three points before Louisiana put Set 2 away 25–21.
Similar to the previous night, Old Dominion was able to salvage a tightly contested Set 3. Both teams traded each of the final 15 rallies of the match, with the Monarchs winning 25–23.
Much like Set 1, Louisiana dominated the entire final set. The Ragin’ Cajuns won 10 rallies in a row midway through to soar ahead 22–11, which was more than enough to put Old Dominion away 25–16.
The victory was due in large part to a career night for Darling. The senior set season highs in kills (18) and points (21) and matched a season high six total blocks.
Richardson, whose 281 kills ranks sixth in the Sun Belt, followed Darling with 14 kills and points.
Sophomore Lauryn Hill wasn’t far behind with a dozen kills and 12.5 points of her own.
Yamamoto and DeCambra were dominant on the back row, recording 42 combined digs to keep the Monarchs off the scoreboard. Yamamoto, fifth in the conference in digs with 335, reached at least 20 digs for the sixth time this season.
DeCambra recorded six aces when serving, tying the second highest mark in a four-set match in the Sun Belt this season.
Louisiana has now won three of the four all-time meetings against Old Dominion, as the Monarchs are still relatively new to the Sun Belt.
The Ragin’ Cajuns currently sit at 13–11 overall and 4–6 in conference play with three weeks left in the regular season.
Louisiana sits behind Troy (10–0), South Alabama (8–2), and Texas State (7–3) in the Sun Belt West standings and didn’t do themselves any favors against those three schools.
The Ragin’ Cajuns look to be competing for the fourth seed in the West, with a top three seed only likely should a team above them experience a dramatic slide.
With the 2023 Sun Belt Conference Tournament approaching in mid-November, the Ragin’ Cajuns return to Earl K. Long Gym on Friday, Oct. 27 at 6 p.m. CST for the first of a two-game set against the ULM Warhawks.