HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (Oct. 4, 2013) – Not even an eight-day layoff can cool off the ETSU volleyball team.
In their final stretch of a 13-match road swing, the Bucs fought their way to a sixth straight victory as the Blue and Gold defeated Northern Kentucky, 3-1 (32-30, 25-13, 25-23, 25-23), on Friday night inside Regents Hall.
Playing its first match since sweeping USC Upstate last Thursday, ETSU received strong play from senior Megan Devine (Kingsport, Tenn.) and junior Bethany Gesell (High Point, N.C.). Devine registered her ninth double-double of the year (third straight against NKU) as the reigning Atlantic Sun Player of the Year finished with 19 kills and 16 digs, along with adding a season-high six blocks and two service aces. Gesell earned her first collegiate double-double by registering 11 kills and a career-high 12 digs. Meanwhile, junior setter Jamie Rutledge (Kingsport, Tenn.) posted 53 of ETSU’s 55 assists, and fellow junior Ivey Rice (Johnson City, Tenn.) totaled 10 kills and seven digs. Sophomore middle blocker Khadijah Wiley (Columbus, Ga.) tallied a season-high nine kills to go with six blocks, and junior Meredith Hardy (Kingsport, Tenn.) registered her 331st career block assist, tying her with Jennifer Pennington (1993-96) for the most in program history. Hardy ended the match with eight kills and six blocks.
With the win, the Blue and Gold now sit alone atop the conference standings as ETSU improved to 10-6, 4-0, while NKU dipped to 5-11, 0-4.
“First off, I would like to credit NKU, because they put a lot of pressure on us tonight and made it difficult to win key points in the match,” said head coach Lindsey Devine. “We managed to come up with big plays at key moments when the score could’ve gone either way – that was the difference maker. Megan kept us in it throughout the match and was huge tonight. She carried us offensively and defensively.”
After holding an eight-point lead midway through the first set, ETSU had trouble putting away the Norse, but with both teams combining for 10 ties and four lead changes down the stretch, the Bucs finally held on for a 32-30 win. The clubs kept it close early on, but with ETSU up by one (10-9), the Blue and Gold recorded an 8-1 run to extend its lead to eight, 18-10. However, NKU didn’t back down and scored 11 of the next 14 points to pull even at 21. From there, the Norse could’ve closed out the set four times, but after dodging several bullets, the Bucs held their composure to win the final two points for the victory. Following a service error by NKU’s Kaela Jo Freppon, Rutledge and Hardy blocked Jenna Ruble at the net to end the wild frame. Devine had seven of ETSU’s 16 kills in the first set, while Gesell posted seven digs. Both teams recorded 20 digs in the opener, while NKU had four more kills than the Bucs, 20-16, but ETSU had four less attack errors (11-7).
Coach Devine talked about the importance of winning the first set and how the team was able to draw upon its experiences earlier in the year to help propel the Blue and Gold to a key victory in the opener.
“We have been in so many difficult situations this season, and we always talk about how we can benefit from those experiences down the road. Tonight, we used this to our advantage in the opener, because we found a way to push through in another long set and came away with the win.”
In the second set, NKU overcame its heartbreaking loss in the opener to pull even at one by taking the frame, 25-13. The Norse won 11 of the first 15 points of the set, and after the Bucs pulled within five (15-10), NKU closed the stanza on a 10-3 run to steal momentum away from the Blue and Gold.
Neither team gained any breathing room in the third as the set saw 13 ties and four lead changes, but when the dust settled ETSU won the frame, 25-23, giving the Bucs a 2-1 lead in the match. The Blue and Gold won the first three points of the set, but the Norse quickly pulled even at five. From there, the teams traded scores until NKU built a two-point advantage, 17-15. Fortunately, ETSU responded with a 7-2 run to regain the lead, 22-19. Just like the first set, the Norse didn’t go down without a fight as they recorded a quick spurt to cut their deficit to one, 24-23. However, following their final timeout, the Bucs came away victorious, courtesy of a kill by Gesell. ETSU tallied its best attack percentage in the third, finishing with a .310 clip (17-4-42), while five different players recorded at least two kills for the Blue and Gold. The Bucs were also strong at the net as ETSU out-blocked NKU, 5-1.
ETSU was able to put the match away in the fourth, as the Bucs won 14 of the final 21 points and rallied to a clinching 25-23 victory. With neither team wanting to stake out an early lead, the Norse finally made the first move as they used a 7-3 run to turn a one-point lead into a 16-11 advantage, forcing the Blue and Gold to call their first timeout. The timeout worked as it slowed down NKU and ETSU heated up by mounting an 11-4 surge to go ahead 22-20 after freshman Briana Allmon (Flower Mound, Texas) provided the Bucs with one of their three service aces on the night. The Norse called their final timeout following the ace, and after winning the next two points, ETSU followed suit by using its last timeout. After both teams traded scores out of the break, Devine gave the Blue and Gold the lead for good when she slammed down her sixth kill of the set. Devine and Wiley ended the match by stuffing Ruble at the net, resulting in ETSU’s sixth straight victory.
On the stat sheet, the Bucs were outnumbered in nearly every category except for blocks. ETSU out-blocked the Norse by one, 13-12, while both teams totaled 57 kills. NKU held a plus-two advantage in assists (57-55), plus-three in service aces (6-3), and plus-three in digs (57-54). The Blue and Gold also had three ball handling errors to NKU’s zero, and finished with five more attack errors (31-26). However, when the match was on the line, the Bucs didn’t want to go to a fifth set and pulled out the result which matters most – the win.
A pair of NKU players finished with double-doubles. Taylor Snyder provided the Norse with 49 assists and 11 digs, while Julian Jayden added 17 kills and 10 digs.
The Bucs wrap up their road swing Saturday afternoon when ETSU takes on Lipscomb at 3 p.m. (Eastern) inside Allen Arena. The Lady Bisons defeated USC Upstate on Friday night and are 3-1 in conference play.
“In order to beat Lipscomb, we need to be a different team than what we were tonight,” said Devine, whose Bucs knocked off the Lady Bisons in last year’s A-Sun semifinal match. “We know it’s going to be another battle. It seems like we always bring out the best in them, so it’s going to require us to play even harder and together as a team.”
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