JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Nov. 16, 2013) – A comeback wasn’t in store for the Buccaneers on Saturday.
After dropping the first two sets to Jacksonville, the ETSU volleyball team put together a valiant effort in the third, but the Dolphins ended the epic frame to cap off the sweep (19-25, 17-25, 35-37) and claim a share of the Atlantic Sun regular season title inside Brooks Gym.
With the loss, ETSU had its pair of win streaks come to an end, while the Bucs – who also earned a share of the regular season crown – were pushed down to the No. 2 seed in next week’s conference tournament. The Blue and Gold had their 15-match home win streak and nine-match overall win streak come to a halt, while Jacksonville secured the top seed after improving to 27-3, 16-2 in A-Sun play. The Bucs finished regular season play at 22-8, 16-2, while it marked their first home loss since last October, when ETSU suffered a setback to Lipscomb. Meanwhile, it was the first time in over two years where the Bucs were swept at home (Nov. 12, 2011 vs. Belmont).
Playing in her final game inside Brooks Gym, senior captain Megan Devine (Kingsport, Tenn.) tallied her 12th straight double-double (73rd career) en route to tying a record she set last season. Devine, who registered 15 kills and 10 digs against the Dolphins, recorded her 15th double-double in conference play, tying her 2012 mark. Following her 10-dig effort, Devine also moved into third-place on the all-time ETSU digs list, passing Karen Freeburg (2001-04). The reigning A-Sun Player of the Year now has 1,459 career digs.
Along with Devine, junior Meredith Hardy (Kingsport, Tenn.) added eight kills and nine blocks, but it was the duo of Sammie Strausbaugh and Taylor Nyquist that lifted Jacksonville to its seventh straight victory. Strausbaugh, the reigning A-Sun Freshman of the Year, ended with 19 kills and 10 digs, while Nyquist added 13 kills and 15 digs.
“I want to congratulate Jacksonville on its strong performance today,” said head coach Lindsey Devine. “They came in here and were solid the entire match. They served us tough and kept us from getting into any type of rhythm.
“I think we were a little anxious in the first set, and our mental focus wasn’t there on the service line, which eventually caught up to us. We played hesitant and Jacksonville took advantage of our miscues.”
After Jacksonville picked up a pair of convincing wins in the first two sets, ETSU came out of the break with more energy and it showed. However, after having seven opportunities to put the set away, the Bucs couldn’t get over the hump and the Dolphins cracked the 24th tie when Kylie Jacob’s kill made it a 36-35 contest. From there, Jacksonville captured the match when Jamie Rutledge (Kingsport, Tenn.) was called for her third ball handling error of the contest.
Overall, the third set had 24 ties and 12 lead changes, while ETSU led by as many as three (14-11) and the Dolphins held a four-point advantage late in regulation at, 23-19. The Bucs fought back from the four-point deficit thanks to a 5-0 run, which was fueled by strong blocking from Hardy and Rutledge.
Unfortunately, after dodging four set points thanks to three kills from Devine and another from Khadijah Wiley (Columbus, Ga.), ETSU couldn’t hold off the strong offensive attack from Nyquist and Strausbaugh. The Jacksonville combo helped the Dolphins fight off set points, which led to their heroics at the end.
In the third set alone, Jacksonville tallied 26 kills (.259 attack percentage), while also adding three service aces and 21 digs. On the flip side, the Bucs totaled 17 kills (.261 attack percentage), but the Blue and Gold were held without a service ace and only 12 digs. Strausbaugh and Devine both led their respective teams with nine kills in the third set.
“I was proud of the way we battled in the third set,” commented Devine. “When those moments are tight, like they were today, you have to play clean volleyball. I thought we did a great job of blocking and executed some key kills. However, the difference between winning and losing at that point is so small and one little hiccup proved to be the factor down the stretch.”
Early on, the Dolphins controlled the first set as Jacksonville opened a seven-point lead (14-7) and never looked back en route to a six-point victory, 25-19. The Bucs were only able to cut the deficit to four nine different times, but unforced errors haunted ETSU in the opener. The Blue and Gold committed six of their 12 unforced errors in the set, as ETSU tallied five service errors and a ball handling miscue in the first.
The early stages of the second set were nip-and-tuck, but with the score knotted at 10, Jacksonville used a 6-2 spurt to take control of the frame and gained a 2-0 lead in the match with a 25-17 victory. The Dolphins used a balanced offensive attack to give the Blue and Gold fits as four different Dolphin players finished with at least three kills in the stanza. Jacob, Nyquist, and Strausbaugh all finished with four kills in the second and Emily Laskelle pitched in with three. Hardy was the only spark for the Bucs as she hit .571 (4-0-7), but the team registered a .121 (9-5-33) clip.
For the match, ETSU hit .187 (36-13-123) and out-blocked the Dolphins, 14-3, but Jacksonville totaled 20 more kills than the Bucs and hit .235 (56-24-136). In addition, Jacksonville was plus-21 in digs, 65-44, and the visitors also won the battle in service aces, 5-0, marking the first time since Oct. 22, 2011 when the Blue and Gold were held without an ace.
The Bucs now turn their attention to postseason play as ETSU awaits the winner of Lipscomb/Kennesaw State on Friday, Nov. 22 inside the KSU Convocation Center in Kennesaw, Ga. ETSU is looking to win its second consecutive A-Sun Championship and head to the NCAA for the second time in program history.
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