Opening Day: Tech volleyball tops Fairleigh Dickinson, drops five-set battle with Evansville

Opening Day: Tech volleyball tops Fairleigh Dickinson, drops five-set battle with Evansville

By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information

MACOMB, Ill. – Tennessee Tech women's volleyball came up one set short of a doubleheader sweep to open its 2018 season. 

Tech bested Fairleigh Dickinson in four extremely hard fought sets in its first match Friday morning, dropping the first 25-23 before roaring back to take three in a row: 25-23, 25-23 and 30-28.

The celebration had to be short-lived, however, as the Golden Eagles then had roughly an hour and a half before their second tilt against Evansville. TTU carried its momentum into the first set, outgunning Evansville 25-18, but the Purple Aces would rally to win sets two (25-23) and three (30-28). Tech showed some grit, winning the fourth set 25-23 to force a winner-take-all fifth segment, but came up just short in its comeback effort (15-10).

Erica Grant and Rachel Thomas led the Golden Eagle offense in the first set with Fairleigh Dickinson, tallying seven kills and six kills, respectively, but FDU packed some firepower of its own, registering a .303 hitting percentage and committing just three attack errors to put Tech in an early hole, 1-0.

However, Rachel Thomas would no longer be contained after that.

The junior from Okemos, Mich. killed four more balls in the second set, three in the third, and seven in the fourth for a total of 20 for the contest, and made just two errors on 37 attacks for a game-high .486 hitting percentage.

Grant, a true freshman outside hitter from Lindenhurst, Ill., helped Thomas key the shift in momentum, recording her first career double-double with 15 kills and 14 digs. Fellow freshman middle blocker Taylor Dorsey notched 10 kills to make three Golden Eagles in double figures.

Senior Susie Jeziorowski was the only setter to play in the match for TTU and added a huge contribution offensively. Jeziorowski, who was named a team captain last night, racked up 50 assists to go with three kills and a team-leading three service aces.

Ali Verzani (14 digs) and libero Kirsten Brugere (13 digs) assisted Grant in getting it done on the defensive end. Verzani did a little bit of everything in the match, adding four kills, two service aces and an assisted block to score 6.5 points.

Erika Sullivan had 16 kills to lead Fairleigh Dickinson, the only Knight with more than 10.

In the nightcap, Tech came out firing, playing its best set of the day statistically. The Golden Eagles made just four attack errors on 30 attempts in the first set for a hitting percentage of .400, and featured solid balance, getting at least one kill from six different players.

Then, much like Thomas did for Tech, Evansville junior Rachel Tam became the story of the game with 25 kills over the last four sets, including nine in the third and five in the decisive fifth set.

Tech did everything it could to keep the match close in the later stages. The back-and-forth battle was tied 37 times over its five sets, 29 of which came in sets three and four.  

Verzani broke out to lead Tennessee Tech with 16 kills vs. Evansville, while Thomas and Grant added 11 apiece. Dorsey followed up a strong first-match effort with nine kills. 

Dorsey and Thomas also had five assisted blocks each to lead Tech's 14-block effort in the match. Jeziorowski (4 assists, 1 solo), Abigail Duncan (3, 1), Grant (2, 1) and Verzani (1, 0) were all supporting members of the block party.

Jeziorowski set up all but six of Tech's kills in game two, collecting 45 assists.

The Golden Eagles will play one more match tomorrow in Macomb, a date with Western Illinois at 2 p.m. CT. That match will be streamed on Western Illinois' All-Access network.

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Photo by Thomas Corhern