By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
SEATTLE, Wash. – For its final tournament weekend, Tennessee Tech volleyball will fly nearly 2,500 miles to Seattle for the Redhawk Invitational.
"The fourth weekend is a grind," said Tech head coach Jeannette Waldo. "School is in full force and is adding stress off of the court, we are going on our third week straight of missing class, and we are preparing for multiple teams within one weekend. It will be a great challenge for us."
Tech brings a 6-5 record into its fourth tournament of the year, and looks to bounce back after posting a 1-2 record at the Memphis Tiger Invitational.
After a 3-1 win over North Alabama got the Golden Eagles off to a strong start, they struggled to execute against relentless pressure from a Memphis team playing its second home tournament of the season. The negative momentum seemingly carried over into the following day as TTU ended up on the short end of its matchup with Louisiana-Monroe.
But, as legendary coach Vince Lombardi famously quipped, "it isn't whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up." After a strong week of practice, Waldo is confident her team is refocused and ready for the next challenge.
"This week has been centered on game management," Waldo said. "Specifically, 100% effort, playing clean with low errors and finding the line between very aggressive play and making the right choices. We're anxious to compete again and we hope to implement some of these ideas this weekend."
Tech will be tested right off the bat, opening up yet another Friday doubleheader with homestanding Seattle U. in the Redhawk Center at 1 p.m. CT/11 a.m. PT.
This will be the home opener for Seattle U., which has accrued a winning record of 5-4 through nine matches this season.
The Redhawks have three straight-sets victories this year over Campbell, South Dakota State and Weber State, along with a pair of five-set wins over UC Riverside and Sacramento State, which were picked up at last weekend's Sacramento State Invitational.
The losses have come from a 7-2 Nevada team (0-3), a midweek road match at Long Beach State (1-3), San Diego State (2-3) and Green Bay (0-3).
Six-foot, three-inch freshman outside hitter Eve Kerschenbaum leads SU in kills per set with 2.91, but has only played in 23 of the team's 34 sets.
Outsides Sofia Sanchez and Rachel Stark have played every set and are first and second in total kills with 85 and 84, respectively. Stark is also tied for the team lead in service aces with 12.
Four players – Kerschenbaum, Sanchez, Julia Quieroz and Maja Stojanovic – all boast an attack percentage of .248 or better.
Shae Harris has started all nine matches at setter for the Redhawks and averages 9.21 assists per set for the season, which is third-best in the Western Athletic Conference.
"I think it's a good thing to play the host team first," Waldo said. "They are usually a team to beat since they are on their own turf. Seattle has some size and some firepower in their attackers, so we will need to make sure we have strong defense in place. "
Tennessee Tech will play Montana State in its second match on Friday, which is slated for a 5:30 p.m. CT start.
The Bobcats from Bozeman, Mont. are 3-6 so far in 2018 and have lost five of their last six matches since winning two of three to start the season at the Cleveland State Tournament.
After Cleveland, MSU lost all three in tournament play at the University of Portland, and then salvaged one win over SMU last weekend at TCU.
Evi Wilson, Natalie Passeck and Hannah Scott are Montana State's top three attackers with 2.97, 2.75, and 2.73 kills per set, respectively. Passeck has 17 errors on 222 attacks for a team-leading percentage of .270.
The team features two functional setters in sophomores Allie Lynch and Carina Lehto, a transfer from Mississippi State. Lynch has played 20 sets to Lehto's 16, but Lehto holds the edge with 9.25 assists per set to Lynch's 8.95.
Defensively, MSU is anchored by junior libero Allyssa Rizzo, who leads the Big Sky Conference with 5.28 digs per set. Rizzo has recorded at least 19 digs in seven of the Bobcats' nine matches and notched a season-high 31 vs. LIU Brooklyn on August 31. She is also the team leader in service aces with 12.
Kelsie White has played every set as the team's middle blocker and paces the club with 37 blocks and 1.09 per set.
"Montana State has a few things on their side that we have not seen yet from an opponent," said Waldo. "They have a very active setter and they have multiple "lefties" attacking. We will need to adjust to their style quickly to be successful."
Tech will finish up Saturday afternoon against another member of the Big Sky, Idaho State, at 1:30 p.m. CT.
Idaho State flew to Atlanta for its first tournament of the season at Georgia Tech, where it split four games, beating Winthrop and Abilene Christian, and falling to Georgia Tech and Georgetown.
From there, it beat Milwaukee and lost to UC Riverside and Boise State at its home tournament, the Idaho State Invitational, and claimed straight-sets victories over St. Peter's and Fairleigh Dickinson at the Denver Pioneer Showdown last weekend.
However, some of the Bengals' statistical ranks in the conference would suggest they are a better team than their 5-6 record would indicate.
As a team, the Bengals are third in the Big Sky in hitting percentage and assists per set, and fourth in kills per set.
Individually, they feature the league's best setter in Chelsea Johnson (10.90 assists per set), the second-most productive attacker in Abby Garrity (3.83 kills per set), and the No. 1 middle blocker in Brooke Pehrson (1.33 blocks per set).
Pehrson is also eighth in the conference in hitting percentage with a .292 mark for the season. Garrity and redshirt sophomore middle blocker Taylor Meeks aren't far behind with .280 and .270, respectively.
Junior libero Haylie Keck has the conference's fourth-highest digs per set average with 4.93 and ranks tied for fourth in service aces with 15.
"Idaho State is the only team we will have the opportunity to live scout before we play them," the coach said. "They seem to have a couple of dominant players that we need to focus on in order to slow them down."
Aside from the action on the court, road trips are a major cog in the development of camaraderie between teammates. Waldo is hopeful that this particular cross-country excursion to a large city will have lasting effects on team bonding.
"We play back to back on Friday, and then Saturday we have one match early before we get the rest of the day to explore the city as a team," said Waldo. "This down time together should give us a great boost as we begin conference play.
Live statistics links for all Tech matches this weekend are below. The broadcast link will only cover the Tennessee Tech-Seattle U. contest on Friday.
Tennessee Tech at Seattle U.
Photo by Thomas Corhern