JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Nov. 2, 2012) – Florida Gulf Coast entered Brooks Gym with the second longest winning streak in the country. However, on Friday night, the ETSU volleyball team rose to the challenge and accomplished a feat no other Atlantic Sun Conference team was able to do this season, as the Bucs stuffed the Eagles in five (23-25, 25-20, 21-25, 25-22, 15-7) to clinch their spot into the conference tournament.
Despite dropping two of the first three sets and trailing 15-9 in the fourth, ETSU once again showed its true colors by digging deep to find a way to win behind a raucous crowd inside Brooks. The Blue and Gold closed the fourth stanza out on a 16-7 surge to claim the win and carried all the momentum over to the decisive fifth set. ETSU soared out to a 6-2 run in the fifth and never looked back, as the Bucs stormed their way to a 15-7 victory in the set, marking their second straight victory in five.
Once again, every Buccaneer player contributed to the win as ETSU improved to 18-10, 9-5, while FGCU suffered its first loss since Sept. 18 and moved its mark to 19-8, 14-1. Furthermore, the Blue and Gold continued to protect their home court as ETSU has now won eight of its nine games played in Johnson City this season.
As a team, the Bucs won the battle in kills (69-50), assists (62-49), service aces (6-5), and blocks (14-12) over the Eagles.
Individually, sophomore Meredith Hardy (Kingsport, Tenn.) and junior Megan Devine (Kingsport, Tenn.) produced outstanding efforts on Friday. Hardy – who was fresh off her career high 25-kill effort at Northern Kentucky last Saturday – registered 20 kills and nine blocks, including a career best four solo blocks. Meanwhile, Devine collected her sixth straight double-double (conference leading 19th of the year) by tallying 18 kills and 13 digs, and is only two digs shy of generating No. 1,000 of her career. Sophomore Jamie Rutledge (Kingsport, Tenn.) quarterbacked the Buccaneer offense with 57 assists and also provided ETSU with four digs, four blocks, and three kills. Rutledge was also honored pregame with a game ball after recording her 1,000th career assist two weeks ago at USC Upstate.
After dropping a tight opening set, ETSU evened the match up at one by taking the second, 25-20. In the first, the Bucs trailed by three late (20-17) – and after cutting the deficit to 24-23 – FGCU won set point on a block assist from Kaitlin Holm and Karina Mambuca. However, after seeing the Eagles hit at a .312 clip (15-5-32) and holding ETSU to two blocks in the opener, the Blue and Gold’s defense stepped up in a big way in set two. The Bucs compiled five blocks en route to limiting the Eagles to a -.100 attack percentage (7-10-30).
The second stanza had seven ties and six lead changes, but with FGCU starting to gain momentum by building an 11-6 lead, ETSU burned a timeout to regroup and get back on track. The stoppage worked as the Bucs won eight of the next 10 points to lead 14-13, forcing the Eagles to use their first timeout after Hardy slammed home one of her seven kills in the set. From there, FGCU regained a 17-14 advantage, but it was all Blue and Gold after Rutledge found Hardy for yet another kill – resulting in an 11-3 run to close out the set. In the end, Hardy accounted for six of the final ten points won in the frame. The Kingsport, Tenn. native finished with a .455 attack percentage (7-2-11) and had four blocks in the second.
In the third, neither team gained any breathing room until the Eagles used a 4-0 run to take a 16-12 lead midway through the set. Despite pulling back even at 19, the Bucs were unable to recapture the lead as FGCU closed the set out on a 6-2 spurt and held a 2-1 lead in the match following the 25-21 victory. After being forced into 10 attack errors in the second, the Eagles only recorded three in the third and hit .321 (12-3-28) in the stanza, compared to ETSU’s .136 showing (15-9-44).
Fortunately, the Blue and Gold got the Eagles out of rhythm again offensively in the fourth and responded down the stretch. FGCU – the best attacking team in A-Sun play – hit only .032 (10-9-31) in the set, while the Bucs finished at .281 (14-5-32). The Eagles thought they had things close to being wrapped up as they held a stiff 15-9 advantage, but the Bucs weren’t ready to back down from the top team in the conference. ETSU slowly chipped away at the deficit thanks to some strong hitting by Devine and errant play by FGCU. During an 11-5 ETSU run, the Eagles totaled four attack errors, while Devine added four kills as the Bucs tied things up at 20. The strong play continued and a key block by Bethany Gesell (High Point, N.C.) and Jessica Schafer (Dekalb, Ill.) ignited a closing 4-1 surge to even the match at two. Devine registered eight of ETSU’s 14 kills and Hardy pitched in with four – including two crucial ones in the closing run.
The fifth set was all ETSU as the Bucs stormed out to their four-point lead (6-2) and cruised to the 15-7 win. FGCU was only able to pull within three, 6-3, but the Blue and Gold were in a zone and kept their foot on the gas pedal. When it was all said and done, ETSU won 31 of the last 45 points to close out the match and hand the Eagles their first conference setback since Oct. 29, 2011 when they dropped a five-set match at Stetson. The Bucs were on fire in the decisive set as ETSU hit a scorching .500 (11-0-22) and held the visitors from Ft. Myers to a sub-.100 percentage (.080). Six different Buccaneer players recorded a kill in the frame, with freshman Khadijah Wiley (Columbus, Ga.) going a perfect 3-for-3.
Wiley ended the match with eight kills and a .385 attack percentage, while Gesell added 11 kills. In addition, Katie Muey (Alexandria, Ind.) and Ashleigh Shain (Geneva, Ill.) combined for 21 of ETSU’s 54 digs as well as four of its six service aces. Muey finished with 16 digs and a pair of service aces, while Shain provided five digs and two aces of her own. Sophomore Ivey Rice (Johnson City, Tenn.) just missed generating her second straight double-double after posting eight kills and 10 digs on the night.
The Eagles had three players record double figures in kills as Holm recorded 12 kills and Gigi Meyer accounted for 26 of FGCU’s 49 assists.
The Bucs return to action Saturday afternoon when ETSU hosts Stetson at 2 p.m. inside Brooks Gym. Prior to the match, senior Kayla Williams (El Paso, Texas) will be honored in Senior Day festivities.
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