By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – It did not look good for Tennessee Tech volleyball after two sets against Southeast Missouri, but the Golden Eagles dug in, and fought back to tie the match at two. The comeback effort would be thwarted by SEMO at the last second, however, as the Redhawks eked out a 15-13 victory in a winner-take-all fifth set.
It was yet another notable example of a young TTU team learning, growing and grinding under first-year head coach Jeannette Waldo. Her team's 7-13 record and 1-5 mark in the Ohio Valley Conference are not a true indicators of the progress it has made.
"I'm so proud of our fight to come back after being down 0-2," Waldo said. "We forced SEMO to play their best volleyball, and for almost three sets, we did the same. We're still learning how to be consistent, and once we learn how to do that, we hope to bottle it up and keep it around for the long haul."
Tech hung with SEMO in set one, but played from behind throughout. With the score 10-9, the Redhawks separated themselves with a 7-1 run that made it 17-10, and then managed their way to a 25-16 victory.
The second set was close the entire way, as the biggest lead of four points belonged to SEMO at 20-16. That was when Rachel Thomas would heat up, tallying three of her eight second-set kills to tie it at 21, which gave the Golden Eagles a chance. Southeast Missouri regained its composure following a timeout, and made a few more plays down the stretch to win 25-22, which set the stage for Tech's valiant rally.
Thomas would go on to record a career-high 21 kills for the match, which tied for the team lead with Ali Verzani (also a career high). Thomas tied another career high with 39 attacks, and committed only five errors for a team-leading .410 hitting percentage.
While Thomas would lead the Golden Eagles again in the third set with six kills, it also marked the emergence of Verzani, whose five kills in the middle stanza would be part of her 15 over sets three, four and five.
Verzani helped TTU surge to tie the set at 18, then killed two balls in the final stages as part of her team's 7-4 spurt to win the set and extend the match.
The Sioux City, Iowa native would put up five more kills in the fourth set, and Thomas would get four, as the tandem now led a team with momentum on its side. The Golden Eagles' blocking prowess also played a large role in getting the set victory, as the four blocks from the TTU front line forced SEMO into its worst hitting percentage in any set on Saturday, .171. Tech had eight team blocks for the contest.
Verzani recorded six more crucial kills in the fifth set, with the sixth one putting Tech in position to win with a 13-12 lead. However, SEMO would record the final three points, including the match-clinching block to cap it.
Verzani would also collect 12 digs on the night for her eighth double-double for the season. She also took a .288 attack percentage, her sixth-highest mark during the 2018 season.
Susie Jeziorowski was the third Golden Eagle to record a career high in the match, as she spread the ball around efficiently all afternoon with 58 assists.
Shaneice James played a huge role coming off the bench, contributing nine kills and a .250 percentage to the TTU offense.
Taylor Dorsey and Erica Grant each had six kills apiece. Dorsey chipped in two assisted blocks while Grant also racked up 13 digs, tied Thomas for the team-lead in blocks with four, and lead the way with three service aces.
Abigail Duncan dug 11 balls, giving her double-digit digs in three of her last four matches.
"Overall, we did some really nice things today," said Waldo. "We showed a lot of heart in picking ourselves up, and then the fight it takes to come all the way back. We just can't give any team a head start like that."
Tech returns to the more conventional OVC schedule next weekend with a pair of home matches. The Golden Eagles will host Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville on Friday, October 12 at 7 p.m., followed by Eastern Illinois at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Photo by Thomas Corhern