JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Oct. 12, 2013) – The Florida Gulf Coast volleyball team may have been the preseason favorite in the Atlantic Sun Conference, but ETSU is making a strong push to prove the voters wrong.
The Bucs, who are clicking on all cylinders and are a force to be reckoned with, collected their second straight sweep as ETSU took down FGCU in straight sets (25-16, 25-20, 25-16) on Saturday afternoon inside a raucous Brooks Gym.
Junior middle blocker Meredith Hardy (Kingsport, Tenn.) capped off a strong homestand by finishing with 13 kills, six blocks and a blistering .579 attack percentage on Saturday. For the weekend, Hardy hit .543 (23-4-35) and totaled 11 blocks against a pair of teams who entered play one-game out of first-place. Meanwhile, senior Megan Devine (Kingsport, Tenn.) tallied her 10th double-double of the year as she registered a match-high 15 kills and 12 digs versus the Eagles. Junior Jamie Rutledge (Kingsport, Tenn.) quarterbacked the Blue and Gold offense by dishing out 40 of ETSU’s 41 assists. Rutledge also added four digs, three blocks, and two kills.
As a team, the Bucs won every statistical category on the stat sheet. ETSU was plus-19 in kills (46-27), plus-15 in assists (41-26), plus-6 in service aces (8-2), plus-6 in digs (47-41), and plus-3 in blocks (9-6). Junior Bethany Gesell (High Point, N.C.) led the charge with a season-high four service aces, while the Bucs tied a season best with eight total aces as a team.
Prior to the match, the ETSU players surprised Coach Devine with a game ball, photo, and flowers in recognition of becoming the all-time winningest coach in program history. Devine set the mark back on Sept. 20 at Mercer and currently has 178 career victories with the Blue and Gold.
ETSU moved its record to 13-6, 7-0 in A-Sun play and pushed its win streak to nine, marking the longest run since stringing together 16 straight wins in 2006. The Bucs’ 7-0 conference start is also their best since ending the same 2006 campaign at 9-0. FGCU, who suffered its first-ever sweep to the Blue and Gold, dropped to 8-11, 5-2.
In the first set, Hardy led the charge offensively as the Kingsport, Tenn. native posted seven of ETSU’s 17 kills in the frame en route to capturing the 25-16 victory. The score was close early on, but with play knotted at eight, the Bucs used a 16-6 run to break things open and take a 10-point lead, 24-14. Sophomore Khadijah Wiley (Columbus, Ga.) started the surge with a pair of kills, while Hardy and Devine followed suit later in the set. Both Devine and Hardy provided ETSU with four kills each in the run, including Hardy ending the set with a slam. The Bucs hit .333 (17-5-36) in the frame and held FGCU to a .097 (8-5-31) clip. Three of the Bucs’ eight service aces came in the opener and junior Ivey Rice (Johnson City, Tenn.) accounted for two of them.
Despite trailing midway through the second set, ETSU pulled through by winning 12 of the final 18 points to take the stanza, 25-20. As the teams combined for nine ties and five lead changes halfway through the frame, the Bucs took advantage of three straight FGCU errors to regain the lead for good. With the Eagles ahead by one (14-13), FGCU’s Jessica Barnes committed a service error, while attack errors by Barnes and Christine Pinder gave the Blue and Gold a two-point advantage, 16-14, forcing the reigning A-Sun regular season champs to burn a timeout. The Eagles pulled within two following the stoppage, but ETSU didn’t back down as Devine’s eighth kill of the set gave the Bucs the five-point win. Devine, who had half of ETSU’s kills in the second set, also hit an impressive .438 (8-1-16), while Hardy and Gesell each hit .400 (3-1-5).
After both teams came back from the break, the Blue and Gold began the third set on a mission as ETSU won five of the first six points and quickly built a 10-point lead, 14-4. The Buccaneer advantage eventually reached 12, when a service ace by Devine made it a 17-5 contest. FGCU managed to cut its deficit to seven, but the Eagles never put a scare into the Buccaneers as the Blue and Gold concluded the match with a nine-point victory, 25-16. Gesell recorded three of her four service aces, while ETSU collected five as a team in the third set. Hardy and Rice combined to hit .545 (7-1-11) in the frame. Hardy connected on three of her five swings, while Rice went 4-for-6 with one attack error.
Olivia Mesner led FGCU with 10 kills, while Gigi Meyer – the daughter of Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer – recorded 24 assists and nine digs. Coach Meyer spent his bye week by taking in the match inside Brooks Gym on Saturday.
The Bucs hit the road again as ETSU gears up for two important A-Sun matches next weekend in Jacksonville. ETSU takes on second-place Jacksonville Friday night at 7 p.m. and North Florida Saturday at 3 p.m.
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