JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Sept. 30, 2014) – After being swept by Furman in its home opener last week, the ETSU volleyball team was eager to get back into Brooks Gym and defend its home court.
The Bucs did so in a thrilling way Tuesday night.
Katie Muey (Alexandria, Ind.) finished with a career-high 37 digs and Bethany Gesell (High Point, N.C.) added a double-double (19 kills/15 digs) as ETSU defeated Radford in a five-sets (25-21, 19-25, 30-28, 23-25, 16-14).
Muey, who recorded her third 30-plus dig match of the season, was six digs shy of breaking ETSU’s single-match record, while Gesell registered her second double-double of the year and also set a career-high in digs. In addition, Gesell totaled five blocks and hit .472 (19-2-36) on the night.
“Katie continues to be our back row leader, and we know when the ball is placed in her hands, we will be able to execute and get great swings,” said head coach Lindsey Devine. “She has really stepped up her game and Katie prides herself on being an impact player in the backcourt.
“I was also pleased to see Bethany have a great game for us tonight. She was focused and able to pick her spots with her swings -- which is a credit to how we established our middles early -- as it opened up holes for our pins. I was proud to see Bethany take advantage of those opportunities and help the team get the win tonight.”
Fellow seniors Meredith Hardy (Kingsport, Tenn.) and Ivey Rice (Johnson City, Tenn.) also provided the Blue and Gold with solid performances. Hardy ended with 16 kills, six blocks and five digs and Rice tallied 18 kills and four digs. Sophomore Kristen Favre (Plano, Texas) directed the offense as the Buccaneer setter accounted for 49 of ETSU’s 59 assists, and junior Ashleigh Shain (Geneva, Ill.) was the third ETSU player to finish with double-digit digs (10).
With the stat sheet nearly identical for both teams, ETSU’s stout blocking numbers were the difference maker in the outcome. Overall, the Blue and Gold out-blocked the Highlanders, 10.5-7.5. ETSU was also plus-3 in kills (66-63) and plus-1 in digs (86-85), while Radford finished with one more assist (60-59) and service ace (8-7). The 86 digs by the Bucs were the most since recording 89 in a five-set win against Wofford back on Oct. 11, 2011.
Following the win, ETSU (6-11) has posted back-to-back wins for the first time this season and the Bucs have won 20 of their last 23 games inside Brooks Gym. Radford, the reigning Big South champs and preseason favorite, dipped to 10-6.
“We had to show a lot of grit tonight,” said Devine, whose Bucs improved to 23-8 all-time against Radford. “I was very impressed with Radford’s relentless defense, but on the flip side, I thought our girls stayed the course. We had our hiccups along the way, but we were able to overcome those mistakes.
“A week ago, we knew we didn’t play our best against Furman, so we reevaluated what we needed to do and what we wanted out of this year. As a group, we knew we weren’t performing to our ability and the team wanted a change. Once the decisions were made, practices have been more intense, but the team has accepted the challenge. There’s now a hunger to be in the gym and get better. Everyone’s being a great teammate to each other and we are happy with our progress right now. It’s great to get the win tonight, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us and we need to turn our attention to UNCG.”
The entire match was a nail biter as it consisted of 38 ties and 17 lead changes, but after holding off match point in the fifth, the Blue and Gold won the final three points to secure the comeback win.
In the first set, ETSU used its strong defensive presence at the net to capture a 25-21 victory. The Blue and Gold out-blocked the Highlanders, 4-2, while Hardy and Khadijah Wiley (Columbus, Ga.) combined for eight of the Bucs’ 12 kills. ETSU got off to a solid start as the Bucs led until Radford took its first lead of the night when a kill by Emma Deininger made it an 8-7 contest. From there, ETSU answered and regained a 14-11 advantage, courtesy of strong serving by Favre. The Highlanders continued to battle as the visitors pulled even at 14, but ETSU put a stop to any comeback as the Bucs used an 8-3 spurt to take its largest lead of the set, 22-17.
Following another tight set in the second, Radford evened the match with a 25-19 win. Despite overcoming a four-point deficit to pull even at 17, ETSU was unable to get over the hump as the Highlanders won eight of the final 10 points to secure a six-point victory. Overall, the frame consisted of nine ties and four lead changes.
ETSU dug itself in a deep hole early on in the third as Radford scored seven of the first 10 points out of intermission and continued to lead, 16-11, forcing the Blue and Gold to call a timeout after Rylee Milhorn (Kingsport, Tenn.) was charged with an attack error. The set was far from over after the stoppage of play as the Bucs buckled down and took their first lead of the frame, 23-22, when Shain found Briana Allmon (Flower Mound, Texas) for the kill. From there, the teams traded points until Radford regained a 28-27 advantage; however, ETSU was destined to finish the rally as the Bucs came out of their last timeout and won the final three points of the set to go up 2-1 in the match, 30-28. Gesell was clutch down the stretch as two of her six kills came in the final three points of the stanza.
The Bucs got off to a blazing start in the fourth set, but things unraveled midway through and Radford pulled out a 25-23 win to force the decisive fifth set. ETSU won the first five points of the frame, but the Highlanders mounted a 14-5 run to go up, 14-10. The Blue and Gold were able to inch within a point on four separate possessions, but Radford held on for the two-point win.
Radford, who entered the match a perfect 4-0 in five-setters this season, thought they were in prime position for the come-from-behind win. Fortunately, after a seesaw battle in the fifth, the Bucs flexed their muscles and protected their home floor by winning the final three points to cap off the thrilling win. Neither team led by more than two points in the fifth, but after Rachel Wiechecki slammed home one of her 17 kills on the night, ETSU was forced to call timeout with the Highlanders leading, 14-13. The call worked as Meg Bowers served one out-of-bounds and Farve found Rice for back-to-back kills to end the match.
Wiechecki and Jena Braden both registered double-doubles for the Highlanders. To go with her 17 kills, Wiechecki added 16 digs, while Braden pitched in with 50 assists and 11 digs.
The Bucs continue their home stint on Friday night as ETSU hosts UNC Greensboro in Southern Conference play. First serve is set for 7 p.m. inside Brooks Gym.
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