JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Nov. 8, 2014) – Emotions were riding high inside Brooks Gym on Saturday.
Prior to the match, the Bucs honored their senior class with a pregame celebration, and following ETSU’s four-set win over Samford (25-19, 21-25, 25-20, 29-27), Senior Day turned into some glitz and glamour for senior outside hitter Ivey Rice (Johnson City, Tenn.).
Following an intense comeback win to seal the match in four, Ivey’s fiancé took to the microphone and proposed to Rice in front of the Buccaneer faithful.
Without hesitation, Rice said “Yes,” and was wearing a shiny diamond at the post-match press conference.
On the court, Rice helped fuel ETSU’s offense in the third and fourth sets as she totaled eight of her 13 kills in the final two frames, while also posting a .312 (13-3-32) attack percentage for the match. Fellow seniors Bethany Gesell (High Point, N.C.) and Meredith Hardy (Kingsport, Tenn.) were also solid offensively for the Blue and Gold as they combined for 31 kills. Gesell totaled a team-high 17 kills and added five digs, while Hardy – who has now registered at least one block in 122 straight matches – finished with 14 kills (.407 attack percentage) and five blocks.
ETSU’s offense was cycled through sophomore Kristen Favre (Plano, Texas) and senior Jamie Rutledge (Kingsport, Tenn.) as the duo accounted for 46 of the Bucs’ 53 assists. Favre ended with 31 assists, six digs and three service aces, while Rutledge tallied 15 assists and three blocks in her final home game for the Blue and Gold. Defensively, senior libero Katie Muey (Alexandria, Ind.) was dominate again in the back row as she led all players with 28 digs and pitched in with two aces.
With the stat sheet nearly identical for each team, ETSU’s plus-5 margin (56-51) in kills was the difference maker. Both teams finished with 57 digs, while the Bulldogs won the block battle by a half-point, 10.0-9.5. The Bucs managed to register three more service aces than Samford, 7-4, but in return, the Blue and Gold finished with three more service errors, 13-10.
ETSU capped off another successful home season as the Blue and Gold recorded their ninth straight home win, improving to 15-15, 9-5, while the Bulldogs dipped to 16-11, 10-4. Overall, the Bucs have now won 28 of their last 31 matches inside Brooks Gym.
The Bucs used their potent offensive surge to carry them to a 25-19 win in set one. As a team, ETSU hit .400 (14-4-25), while Hardy connected on six of her seven attempts. The Blue and Gold won seven of the first nine points, but Samford rallied with a 12-5 run to go ahead, 14-12, following a block by Erin Bognar. However, ETSU answered with a spurt of its own, as the Bucs closed the stanza on a 13-5 run to claim the six-point win.
In the second set, the teams combined for 11 ties and eight lead changes, and Samford evened the match with a 25-21 win. Again, the Blue and Gold got off to a fast start, winning six of the first nine points, but the Bulldogs responded with a 14-7 run to regain a 17-13 lead. From there, the Bucs mounted a 6-1 surge to go up 19-18, but the Bulldogs never budged and went into the break with a 25-21 win. After its explosive start offensively, ETSU was held to a .050 attack percentage (11-9-40) in the second, while the Bucs were out-blocked, 5-1.
ETSU overcame a slow start in the third, but the Bucs kept their composure to battle back for a 25-20 win. Samford began the frame on a 7-3 run; however, the Blue and Gold slowly chipped away at their four-point deficit and tied the score at 11 when Emily Meitz – who was given a yellow card in the first set – was charged with an attack error. The score featured four more ties, but with things knotted at 16, ETSU closed the set on a 9-4 run to go up 2-1 in the match. Back-to-back kills by Rice ignited the stretch run, while Gesell’s fifth kill of the frame secured the five-point win. The Bucs hit .310 (12-3-29) in the stanza, while Gesell and Rice accounted for nine of the kills.
The fourth set was a classic see-saw affair as it consisted of 16 ties and three lead changes, but when the dust settled, ETSU was left celebrating the four-set win. The Bucs held a 15-12 advantage midway through the set, but Samford didn’t back down as the Bulldogs scored six unanswered points to regain an 18-15 lead. From there, the Blue and Gold rattled off three straight scores to tie it at 18 – and after Samford went back up two (20-18) – ETSU charged back to even things at 20. Again, the Bulldogs took another two-point lead when a kill by reigning SoCon Player of the Year Michaela Reesor made it a 22-20 score, forcing the Bucs to call timeout. The stoppage of play was all the Blue and Gold needed as ETSU managed to tie the set at 23, and after the teams traded scores, Rutledge and Hardy combined for the go-ahead block at, 28-27. As the Bucs clung to their lead, the match ended on the next possession when Reesor was called for an attack error. Muey totaled 14 of her digs in the fourth, while ETSU’s plus-1 advantage in blocks (3-2) and kills (19-18) was all the Blue and Gold needed to clinch the win.
Reesor finished with a double-double for the Bulldogs as she tallied 20 kills and 13 digs, while Bognar added 16 kills, nine digs and two blocks. Erika Pifer accounted for 44 of Samford’s 49 assists.
The Bucs wrap up regular season play on the road next weekend as ETSU plays at The Citadel on Friday night (6 p.m.) and at Mercer Saturday afternoon (1 p.m.).
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For more information on Buccaneer volleyball, visit ETSUBucs.com and click on the volleyball page.