JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Nov. 6, 2012) – With Kennesaw State fighting for one of the two remaining spots left to make the Atlantic Sun Tournament, the ETSU volleyball team knew they would be in for a battle on Tuesday night. However, despite being down five points late in the third set, the Bucs rallied back and held the momentum for the remainder of the match as ETSU defeated the Owls, 3-1 (21-25, 25-18, 26-24, 25-21), inside Brooks Gym.
Three Buccaneer players recorded double-digit kills, while sophomore setter Jamie Rutledge (Kingsport, Tenn.) registered her eighth double-double of the season after posting 49 assists and 10 digs. Meanwhile, junior Megan Devine (Kingsport, Tenn.) tallied her eighth straight double-double after compiling 20 kills and 15 digs versus the Owls. Devine – who leads the A-Sun with 21 double-doubles on the season – tied the single-season conference record for double-doubles in league play on Tuesday night. The Preseason A-Sun Player of the Year selection generated her 13th double-double in A-Sun play, which ties her with FGCU’s Jelena Simic. Simic completed the 2009 season with 13 double-doubles.
Joining Devine with double figures in kills were Meredith Hardy (Kingsport, Tenn.) and Bethany Gesell (High Point, N.C.). Hardy wrapped up the match with 14 kills and hit .400 to go with five blocks, while Gesell hit .320 and totaled 12 kills – marking the 10th time in the last 12 matches the High Point, N.C., native has finished with at least 10 kills.
As a team, the Blue and Gold hit .288 (62-18-153) and out-dug Kennesaw State by five, 66-61, courtesy of Katie Muey’s (Alexandria, Ind.) 17-dig effort and Ashleigh Shain’s (Geneva, Ill.) career-high 12-dig performance.
With the win, ETSU wrapped up the home portion of its schedule with a 10-1 mark inside Brooks Gym and improved to 20-10, 11-5 in A-Sun play. The Bucs – who have won four straight and 10 of their last 13 matches – recorded their second 20-win campaign in the last three seasons.
On a night when red-shirt freshman Eryn Samuels (Tampa, Fla.) sang a powerful rendition of the national anthem, her Buccaneer teammates were ready to defend the home floor inside Brooks Gym.
The Bucs jumped out to an explosive start in the opening set as ETSU won six of the first seven points, but Kennesaw State quickly pulled ahead, 12-10, after back-to-back kills by Keyaira Stevenson capped off an 11-4 run for the Owls. The Bucs answered by regaining a 3-point lead, 16-13, but the stingy Kennesaw State team wouldn’t go away and closed out the set on a 12-5 spurt to take the opener, 25-21. ETSU out-hit the Owls .282 to .263, but Kennesaw State claimed the set due to its strong serving. The Owls finished with three aces (zero service errors) in the frame, compared to zero aces on two service errors by the Blue and Gold.
Fortunately, after jumping out to another solid start in the second, the Bucs didn’t let the Owls comeback in the set. ETSU led 8-3 thanks to one of four kills by Devine in the set – and after Kennesaw State pulled even at 10 – the Blue and Gold rattled off seven of the next 10 points to lead 17-13 following a slam by Hardy. From there, the Owls were only able to get as close as three, 19-16, and ETSU wrapped up the stanza on a 6-2 run to tie the match up at one, 25-18. The Bucs had a strong well-balanced offensive attack as four players notched kills in the second, with Gesell and Devine leading the charge with four each.
The third set was tightly contested early on, but with ETSU trailing 9-8, Kennesaw State built up a comfortable cushion when Sara Metroka’s kill extended the Owl lead to five, 20-15.
However, like they have done all season long, the Blue and Gold stepped up and flexed their muscles to pull out the critical victory.
ETSU quickly erased its deficit by using an 8-3 surge to tie things at 23-all – and despite having Turea Jones give the Owls a one-point lead on her kill – the Bucs dodged set point and concluded play with three unanswered points to capture the 26-24 victory. Devine lifted the Bucs with consecutive kills to close the frame, while Hardy and Ivey Rice (Johnson City, Tenn.) ignited the 3-0 run with a block assist. As a team, ETSU recorded 20 of its 62 kills in the third, while hitting .381. Gesell was unstoppable as she hit a blazing .778 (7-0-9) and Devine added eight kills of her own.
The fourth and final set was the closest of them all, but after seeing 11 ties and five lead changes, ETSU was left celebrating a 25-21 victory. Early in the fourth the teams accounted for eight ties, but with play knotted at 11, the Bucs looked to have things in control as the Blue and Gold broke open a five-point lead, 16-11, thanks to five unanswered scores. Unfortunately, Kennesaw State wasn’t going to let up, as the Owls answered with five straight scores of their own to pull even at 16, forcing ETSU to call its first timeout. The Bucs came out of the break with a kill from Devine, but Kennesaw State scored the next three points to go up 19-17 after Jones’ 17th kill of the night.
But once again, the Blue and Gold rose to the challenge and slowly chipped away at the deficit. With the Owls leading 20-18, ETSU strung together a 4-0 surge to recapture a 22-20 advantage and put Kennesaw State back on its heels after a powerful service ace from Devine knocked Jenna Wilt off her feet during the run. The Owls never had an answer for the strong Buccaneer attack and ETSU won three of the final four points to claim the win. In the end, it was fitting that senior Kayla Williams (El Paso, Texas) won the final point for the Blue and Gold as her block on Metroka put the finishing touches on the comeback. Like Gesell did in the third, Hardy followed suit in the fourth as she hit .714 by totaling five kills on seven swings.
Stevenson led all players with 21 kills, while Jones added a double-double – finishing with 17 kills and 17 digs for the Owls.
The Bucs close out the 2012 regular season this weekend when ETSU travels to Jacksonville and takes on North Florida and Jacksonville. ETSU plays at UNF Friday night at 7 p.m., while squaring off with Jacksonville Saturday evening at 5 p.m.
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