By Layne Weitzel, TTU Sports Information
NASHVILLE – After a three-set loss at home to Tennessee State earlier in the season, Tennessee Tech responded with a victory in a five-set battle on the Tigers' home court.
The Golden Eagles and Tigers (7-2, 3-12 OVC) totaled set scores of 25-23, 19-25, 29-27, 24-26 and 15-12 Friday night, treating spectators to a lot of extra volleyball.
Tech made a number of improvements compared to its last performance against the Tigers, starting with passing.
"We passed a lot better than the last time we played them," said head coach Dave Zelenock. "We were on our heels the whole game. We were playing so far back that we kept sending them free balls. That's something that it doesn't matter who you are in this conference – you cannot send free balls to Tennessee State or they're just going to hammer you. We probably sent them one per set in this match, and that made a really big difference.
"We passed so well, and we needed to because it was Lexi (Kingree)'s first start. She had three-point passes and she had tons of options, so she just had to pick which hitter was a little bit more open than the others. Everyone, for the most part all night, was going against a single block and doing a really good job with finishing around them."
Making her first-ever start at setter and just the fourth start of her career, redshirt freshman Lexi Kingree delivered a standout performance for the Golden Eagles. Along with her 43 assists, she hit .263 with just one error and collected 11 digs for a double-double, a service ace and a block assist.
Kingree helped spread out Tech's offensive attack – Shaneice James, Rachel Thomas, Shealene Little and K'Vonna Johnson each hit at least .200, with Little pacing the team at .273. Thomas and Johnson tied for the team lead with 13 kills each, while James, Little and Abigail Duncan (with a season-high of nine) combined for 28 more.
"Right from the start, she established herself as an option to score," said Zelenock of Kingree. "She dumped a couple balls right away that made them have to respect her and hold on her. That's what made it a lot easier for our middles to score because their block couldn't just commit on our middle. They had to wait and see if she was going to set the ball first. Toward the end of the match, their whole defense was sucked into the middle of the court trying to stop her, so it gave our offense a lot of lanes to hit through because they couldn't recover fast enough. "
Tech out-hit Tennessee State .231 to .207 and forced 29 Tiger errors. Defensively, Thomas led with three solo blocks and two block assists, while Kirsten Brugere gathered 25 digs and Abigail Duncan also hit double-digits with a career-high of 17 (and was just a kill away from a double-double).
Photo by Jim Dillon