From OBU Sports
Jordan Beech, Assistant Director of Athletic Communications

SHAWNEE – Sophia Couto came up big in her first start of the season, pacing the Lady Bison to a 3-0 (25-18, 25-18, 25-19) victory over Southwestern Oklahoma State, the reigning Great American Conference Tournament champions. The win moves Oklahoma Baptist (10-8, 4-1 GAC) into a three-way tie for first place in the GAC standings.
Couto, a junior middle hitter, made good use of the first start of her career on Bison Hill, efficiently collecting a team-best 10 kills against just one error on 18 attack attempts, good for a .500 hitting percentage. She also led the team with four total blocks.
The Lady Bison set the tone early, using a 3-0 run early on in the first set to jump out to a 6-3 lead thanks to a pair of Couto scores and a Kynnedy Myers kill. Oklahoma Baptist continued to score in flurries, expanding the lead to as much as 20-11 following kills by Shekinah Sharpe and Couto that came in between a pair of SWOSU attack errors. Though the Bulldogs fought off two set points, Cadyn Laing found the weak point in the Dawgs defense to take the set, 25-18.
In the second set, OBU head coach Anna Howle went to her bench, throwing Rachel Richie into the fray as OBU trailed 5-3. The freshman immediately made her presence felt by scoring the next point off a dish by Myers, and she restored parity soon after at 7-7 as she combined with Myers yet again. The teams shared the lead down the stretch, but SWOSU blinked first as Richie scored a kill and combined with Couto for a block to push OBU out in front 17-15. Oklahoma Baptist never looked back, and would go on to score four straight points to claim a 2-0 lead.
Oklahoma Baptist fell behind at the start of the third and final set, but came roaring back with a three-point run by Richie, Nicole Fleitman and Sharpe to take the lead at 8-7. Though OBU would find themselves behind soon after, a four-point stretch featuring kills by Adonica Wright, Richie and Couto eventually gave OBU an 18-14 lead which they’d never relinquish. Back-to-back SWOSU errors brought the contest to match point at 24-19 before Fleitman laid down the decisive kill to clinch the win.
“We earned that win,” said Howle. “I don’t feel like we’ve really earned a win since we beat Washburn. We really took care of business tonight. It was pretty evident defensively that we weren’t going to let them earn points, and that we would earn them. We played hard.
“Sophia played really well in her first game starting. She’s been working really hard in practice and it definitely showed tonight. She did a great job.”
Couto paced the side offensively with 10 kills, while Fleitman and Laing each had eight and Richie seven. Myers recorded 35 assists, her second-best total in a three-set match this year.
On the defensive end, Sierra VeraCruz had a team-best 16 digs, while Sharpe was just one dig shy of her mark at 15. Couto led the team in blocks, and Laing was second on the team with three total blocks, including one solo stop.
Oklahoma Baptist now heads to Arkadelphia, Arkansas, to take on Ouachita Baptist in GAC action on Thursday, Oct. 6 at 6:30 p.m.