BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Tech took on two different Bulldog teams and couldn't surpass early deficits, losing to Gardner-Webb and Samford at the Bulldog Invitational Friday.
In their first four-set match of the season, the Golden Eagles harnessed their defense, and senior Kelsey Gray created a wall at the net, blocking nine balls, five of them solo blocks. Gray also led the Tech offense with 11 kills on 30 swings, hitting at a .300 clip, just shy of a double-double performance. Outside hitter Ellen Conti was the only other Golden Eagle to record double-digit kills, tallying 10 terminations on 37 swings.
Libero Courtney Smith turned in a 19 dig performance, just two digs shy of her career high. She also handled 34 of Tech's serve receptions with 100% efficiency, taking 34 balls and no reception errors. Madi Comperry and Conti sprawled for six digs apiece. Katrina Dvorken was a presence at the net, assisting in two blocks and turning away two balls on her own. Cody Dodd also added two solo blocks and assisted in one. Tech's blocking effort accumulated 14 total blocks, six blocks more than the Runnin' Bulldogs.
Set one went to the Runnin' Bulldogs, despite being out blocked by Gray. Tech knocked down three team blocks, well above their season average of 1.96 blocks per set. Gray had a hand in two of those blocks, while Gardner-Webb was only able to get a piece of one of Tech's attacks.
The Runnin' Bulldogs ran to an early 10-4 lead before Madison Keyes went back to the service line and rattled off two aces. Tech gained back a few points, but couldn't overcome the early deficit. Tech's outsides Conti and Audrey Lewis had five of Tech's seven kills.
Set two was far from perfect. An early rotation error provided the Golden Eagles with a challenge as Tech gave away three free points to Gardner-Webb with rotation errors. Gray continued to post a wall at the net, blocking the outside. Dvorken and Dodd assisted on the right side, nearly eliminating the threat of an outside attack. The Golden Eagles forced eight attack errors, including three from GW's top offensive player Tyler Cockrell.
The 10 minute break between sets two and three settled the Golden Eagles after a hectic second set. A brand new team entered the gym, and Tech's defense elevated play to a whole new level. The score was tied at 8-8 before Tech went on a four-point run and never looked back.
A solo block by Gray at 14-10, sparked a second string of points by Tech, and despite a late comeback by the Runnin' Bulldogs, Tech never lost the lead. A decisive kill by freshman outside Dodd elevated the Eagles to a 20-17 advantage. Another late run by Gardner-Webb threatened to end the match, but Gray answered with a kill just outside the 10-foot line. Tech went on to win the match 25-20.
Gardner-Webb started a different line-up in the fourth set, but the change didn't phase the Golden Eagles. Tech jumped to an early 4-2 lead thanks to another block by Gray and Dvorken. A controversial call allowed the Runnin' Bulldogs to pull within one, but Keyes crushed a ball into the center of the court.
With the momentum in the Golden Eagles favor, an ace by Conti and another kill by Keyes forced a GW timeout. The attempt to "ice" Conti failed, as she countered with another ace. Gardner-Webb then went on a 10-point stretch to take the lead at 15-13 before Tech called a timeout. A rattled Tech returned to the court, and couldn't regain a lead. Tech fell 25-20.
Set scores for Gardner-Webb were 25-15, 26-24, 20-25, 25-20.
In Tech's second match of the night, the Golden Eagles faced a whole different dog, the Bulldogs of Samford. The hosts of the Bulldog Invitational were coming off a 3-0 sweep of Alcorn State, and used the momentum from the win to surge to their second 3-0 victory. Set scores for Samford were 25-10, 25-17, 25-8.
Tech was led by Gray with three kills and Dvorken and Lewis each had two. Smith turned up 15 digs.
The Golden Eagles return to the court Saturday at noon and take on the Alcorn State Braves for the second time this season. Tech defeated the Braves in three sets earlier this season. Saturday's match will complete Tech's tournament play for the season, with Ohio Valley Conference matches beginning Sept. 21 at Murray State.