NATCHITOCHES – Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Week Keelie Arneson and the Northwestern State volleyball team are on fire as they prepare to host SLC powerhouse Central Arkansas Thursday night at 7 in Prather Coliseum.
The Lady Demons (11-5, 3-1) are coming off three conference wins and are on a five match streak overall. The team defeated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Lamar and McNeese State last week.
Both the 11-5 overall record and the 3-1 conference record give the Lady Demons their best start to a season in the programs Division I history.
NSU is currently tied with Central Arkansas (14-1, 3-1) for second place in the conference standings, trailing Stephen F. Austin by one match.
Arneson leads NSU defensively as she has recorded 285 digs. She has also registered 25 service aces. Arneson ranks second in the Southland in digs, averaging 4.83 per set and stands at fifth in aces with an average of 0.42/set.
Stacey DiFrancesco leads Northwestern State on the offensive front, killing 168 balls and tacking on 17 aces and 135 digs.
DiFrancesco stands fourth in the conference for her average of 3.23 kills/set. She is also 10th in aces with an average of 0.33/set.
Mackenzie Neely has had an outstanding season for the Lady Demons as well, batting down 160 kills and recording an additional 20 aces and 39 blocks.
Neely is currently seventh in the conference in kills with an average of .291/set. Her average of 0.36 aces/set puts her at seventh in the SLC.
The Sugar Bears most recently defeated Nicholls State, 3-0, and Southeastern Louisiana 3-2.
Their sole loss comes from conference foe Texas A&M-CC, who the Lady Demons took down last Tuesday.
"Any time you're up against a really strong opponent you have to play aggressively," said NSU co-head coach Hugh Hernesman. "I think we have to serve aggressively and we have to be aggressive offensively but we also need to make sure we don't get too into it. This year we have been able to walk that line much better than last season."
Senior Jessica Hays leads Central Arkansas' offense, registering 201 kills and 19 aces. Hays has also dug up 101 balls for the Sugar Bears.
"They run a very fast, very balanced offense," said Hernesman. "That makes it difficult to defend so we don't want to be reactionary. We want to be able to anticipate instead of react and with the scouting report the girls know what to expect."
Shelbee Berringer controls UCA's defensive attack with 212 digs while also tacking on 18 aces.
NSU's success has spurred an energetic and larger home crowd in Prather Coliseum, creating a home court advantage.
"I think the increased fan support this season has made the girls a little more confident," said Hernesman. "I can tell that they carry themselves differently when we are in practice or a meeting.
"I think they really appreciate that people know who they are and that we are doing well. The support helps us perform better so it has really been tremendous and hopefully it continues into tomorrow's match."
The Lady Demons host SLC newcomer Oral Roberts on Saturday afternoon. First serve is set for 2 p.m. in Prather Coliseum.