By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – For the third time in as many weeks, Tennessee Tech volleyball would spend its Friday squaring off with two different opponents.
North Alabama and Memphis were the adversaries this time around, and TTU would once again manage a split of its Friday twin bill, beating North Alabama, 3-1, in an afternoon matinee, before falling to Memphis, 3-1, in the evening.
"I was really proud of the way we stayed in the fight during the first match," said head coach Jeannette Waldo. "We just kept thinking 'one point at a time' and kept that mindset until we pulled it out. I think we simply decided we were going to win the match and just kept looking forward."
Setter Susie Jeziorowski was a major factor in the victory for Tech, recording a career-high nine kills on 15 attacks for a .533 percentage (second-best career mark), in addition to running the offense with 47 assists.
"Susie set a goal that she wanted to be more offensive in this match in order to open things up for her teammates," Waldo said. "We sat her down and showed her stats of how often she sets up certain attackers, and she noticed she hadn't been as productive offensively as she would like. She set out with that goal, and her numbers certainly prove that."
Erica Grant and Ali Verzani led a balanced attack that featured five different players with at least seven kills. The talented pair of outside hitters formed a lethal combination, racking up 15 kills apiece. Verzani also added 14 digs for the fourth double-double of her career.
Especially impressive about Grant's output was the fact she only played three sets, entering as a substitute in the second period.
"UNA was very similar to Chattanooga, so we believed we should start the same lineup at first since it worked so well," said Waldo. "We knew we could put Erica in to change things up if we felt we needed that, and she upgraded us. She took care of some less-than-perfect sets for us."
After a hot start got TTU out to a 7-2 lead in the first set, North Alabama made its own run to tie the game at 10.
It would remain close until Tech ripped off three straight kills – two from Verzani – that put the Golden Eagles back in the driver's seat with a 20-16 advantage. North Alabama would cut the lead back to three at 21-18, but would be short-circuited by Tech's 4-1 set-clinching rally.
After dropping the second set to UNA, 25-22, Tech would bounce back with a .324 attack percentage to win the third set and resume control of the match. It would use a 6-1 run in the middle stages to open a 16-10 lead, keyed by kills from Thomas and Grant, a block from Thomas and Jeziorowski, and a service ace from Abigail Duncan. It would be all the separation Tech would need, as the Golden Eagles scrapped their way to a 25-20 set victory.
TTU would get out to an early lead again in the fourth set, using three of its 12 service aces in the match, along with kills from Grant, Verzani, Thomas and Dorsey to build a 9-4 lead.
"We were not serving very well to start the match, so we told them that they might as well approach every serve aggressively because it didn't seem like serving softly affected (UNA) very much," said Waldo of her team's service aces. "Trust yourselves and serve hard like you do in practice, and you'll get the result you want."
Its small cushion would be maintained until the end of the set, when North Alabama would outscore TTU 6-2 to tie it at 24. The Golden Eagles would rise to the occasion in crunch time, getting kills from Verzani and Jeziorowski to score the final two points and secure the match victory.
TTU struggled in the nightcap against Memphis.
The Golden Eagles fended off a late Tiger rally to win the first set 25-23, but could not overcome Memphis' pressure over the course of the rest of the match.
"(Memphis was) a better team than we were tonight," Waldo said. "Memphis decided it was going to do certain things in this match and backed up those decisions with actions. We were unable to accomplish most of the things we wanted to do, and that was the difference."
There were moments in the match where Tech was on the cusp of getting the job done, but simply could not seal the deal.
One such moment came at the end of the third set.
With the match even at one and Tech trailing Memphis 24-20, Tech got kills from Duncan, Jeziorowski and Thomas, and took advantage of a couple of Memphis attack errors to pull out in front, 25-24. However, TTU could not muster the final point, fell behind 26-25, and ended up losing the set 28-26.
Ali Verzani led the way offensively, notching her second double-double of the day with 11 kills and 11 digs.
James' numbers were a pleasant surprise for Tech in the second match, as she responded very well when called upon after playing sparingly on Tuesday against Chattanooga and in the first match of the day vs. UNA.
"It turned out that we felt we needed a senior in there to deal with the tremendous pressure Memphis was putting on us," Waldo said. "We felt we needed to be able to do some things from a blocking standpoint that required her skill set and her connection that she's built with Susie over the years was big for us offensively as well."
With Friday's results, Tech's record moves to 6-4 on the season. It will play one more game in Memphis on Saturday, a 10 a.m. matchup with Louisiana-Monroe.