NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Nov. 17, 2012) – Winning championships aren’t easy, but the ETSU volleyball team was willing to do whatever it took to capture its first-ever Atlantic Sun Tournament Championship on Saturday evening inside Lipscomb’s Allen Arena.
After winning the first two sets of the championship match against North Florida, the Bucs looked like they were going to cruise to the tournament title. Unfortunately, the Ospreys mounted a furious rally by taking the third and fourth sets; however, with its back against the wall ETSU rose to the challenge to win a five-set thriller (25-23, 26-24, 18-25, 22-25, 15-12). The Blue and Gold stormed out to a 6-0 surge in the decisive fifth set, and after having UNF cut the deficit to two, freshman Khadijah Wiley (Columbus, Ga.) sent the Buccaneer faithful into pandemonium when her seventh kill of the match ended the contest, giving ETSU its first tournament title since winning the 1992 Southern Conference Championship.
Following the tournament, junior Megan Devine (Kingsport, Tenn.) was named A-Sun Tournament MVP, while sophomores Meredith Hardy (Kingsport, Tenn.) and Bethany Gesell (High Point, N.C.) joined Devine on the All-Tournament Team. In the three matches, Devine totaled 44 kills, 41 digs, and five blocks en route to setting a new conference record for double-doubles in a season with 25. The A-Sun Player of the Year selection broke Kelly Paiva’s (Florida Atlantic) record after finishing the championship match with 15 kills and 20 digs. Meanwhile, Hardy generated a double-double of her own on Saturday – finishing with 13 kills and 11 blocks – and averaged 3.25 kills and 1.58 blocks in the tournament. Gesell was consistent as can be all weekend long as she tallied double-digit kills in all three matches en route to posting 37 in the 12 sets played. Gesell ended Saturday’s win with 11 kills, five blocks, and three digs.
Despite being out-numbered in nearly every statistical category, the Blue and Gold used their strong team bond to pull through when the going got tough. For the match, UNF were plus-8 in kills, 67-59, plus-three in assists, 59-56, and plus-12 in digs, 71-59, but ETSU went to its top weapon during the fifth set to pull out the win. The Bucs – who out-blocked the Ospreys 15.5 to 13.0 – finished with four stuffs in the final frame. The Bucs also had one more service ace than UNF, 4-3, along with one less service error, 6-5, in the contest.
The win marked the third straight for ETSU and the 11th of its last 15 as the Bucs moved their mark to 23-12 on the year. UNF – who had won eight straight prior to Saturday’s setback – saw its season end at 22-12.
In the first set, North Florida scored six of the first eight points and led until a kill from Devine put the Blue and Gold ahead for the first time at 12-11. From there, ETSU built a four-point cushion courtesy of a 5-2 run and extended its advantage to 17-13 following an attack error by UNF’s Marija Pantovic. The Ospreys didn’t back down as UNF erased the four-point deficit and regained a 20-19 advantage on kill by Carolyn Jenkins; however, the lead didn’t last long as the Blue and Gold mounted a 3-0 run to recapture a 22-20 advantage. Despite UNF pulling within a point three different times down the stretch, ETSU closed the frame out with a kill by Gesell – giving the Blue and Gold the 25-23 victory. The Bucs outhit UNF, .258 to .225, while ETSU took full advantage of three Osprey service errors. ETSU posted one service ace and a service error in the set; however, Jamie Rutledge’s (Kingsport, Tenn.) ace was key as it came during the late 3-0 surge.
The Bucs did an outstanding job of weathering the storm in the second, as UNF threw a pair of runs at ETSU, but the Blue and Gold didn’t fold en route to taking the frame, 26-24, thanks to a set-ending block assist by Devine and Hardy. ETSU jumped ahead to a 5-1 lead in the beginning of the set, but with the Bucs up 8-5, UNF strung together seven straight scores to lead, 12-8. After the Bucs answered with four consecutive points of their own, the Ospreys used a 4-0 run to go back ahead, 16-12. Fortunately, the Blue and Gold weren’t fazed with the strong Osprey attack as ETSU whittled away at the deficit – and after both teams combined for seven ties down the stretch – the Bucs won the final two points to pull out the win and took a commanding 2-0 lead in the championship match.
However, the Ospreys didn’t lay down after the break as UNF made a game of it by taking the third and fourth sets.
North Florida controlled the third set after scoring the first seven points and eventually led by 10, 14-4. The Bucs were able to get within six three different times, but the hole was too deep to dig out of as the Ospreys went on to win, 25-18. Then, in the fourth, ETSU won the opening two points of the stanza, but UNF quickly responded with a 12-3 run to take a 12-5 advantage following a kill by Pantovic. The Osprey advantage remained five until the Blue and Gold used a 6-2 spurt to pull within one when a block assist by Hardy and Ivey Rice (Johnson City, Tenn.) made it a 21-20 score. Unfortunately, ETSU couldn’t get over the hump as Pantovic continued to be a thorn in the Bucs’ side when her service ace moved the match to a fifth set at 25-22.
With shades of 2010 looming over the Blue and Gold, ETSU knew another five-set heartbreaker wasn’t going to happen in 2012. The break between sets calmed any nerves going through the bodies of the Buccaneer players – and like UNF did to start the third set – ETSU returned the favor in the fifth. ETSU received strong defensive play by Hardy and Gesell at the net to begin the frame, as they combined for a pair of blocks, while back-to-back kills by Hardy put the Bucs ahead, 4-0. The fun wasn’t over for the Blue and Gold as Gesell and Hardy teamed up yet again for another block assist and one play later Hardy and Rice greeted Carolyn Jenkins with a block at the net – extending the lead to 6-0. From there, the Ospreys finally got on the board with a pair of points, but a kills from Gesell and Hardy along with an ace by freshman Ashleigh Shain (Geneva, Ill.) pushed ETSU’s advantage to seven, 9-2. UNF had one last run in them as they scored the next five points to make it a 9-7 game – but after keeping it close at 10-8, 11-9, 12-10, and 14-12 – Wiley stepped up with the big slam at the net to cap off the championship title for the Bucs. Wiley was a perfect 2-for-2 with her attack attempts in the frame, while Rutledge dished out all eight assists.
Rutledge just missed recording her second double-double of the tournament after compiling 53 assists, nine digs, five blocks, and a pair of kills in the five-set win, while Rice provided the Bucs with 11 kills, five digs, and three blocks. Wiley paced the Blue and Gold with a .357 attack percentage (7-2-14).
The Ospreys also had four players finish in double figures in kills as Paige Pridgeon finished out her collegiate career with 18 kills and 15 digs. Jenkins ended with 17 kills and a .371 hitting percentage, while senior and A-Sun Libero of the Year, Nicole Baran, wrapped things up with 18 digs and three assists.
ETSU will now have to wait a week to learn its opponent and destination in the field of 64 as the NCAA Selection Show will air live on ESPNU on Sunday, Nov. 25 at 4 p.m.
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