By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Tech volleyball ended its three-game losing streak emphatically on Friday night, and got a much-needed win in Ohio Valley Conference play, as it flew past Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in straight sets: 25-23, 25-21, 29-27.
Tech doubled its 2017 win total with Friday's triumph, as it moved to 8-13 for the season and 2-5 in the OVC. It was also TTU's fifth win in eight matches inside the Hooper Eblen Center, a venue that is becoming difficult for opponents to leave victorious.
"It's so much nicer being at home," coach Jeannette Waldo admitted. "You get to prepare the way you want to prepare, and everyone gets good rest in their own beds, so, yes, we're always pumped to be home."
"That's something this program hasn't felt in awhile – a home court advantage," she said of the 5-3 home start. "They didn't have the success they wanted to have in this building, and I don't think they felt the support they wanted either, so it's awesome that (our players) feel like this is a true 'home court' that they can show off on."
While most of their leads were thin and the set was tied four different times, Tech never trailed in the first stanza, using six kills from Rachel Thomas to remain in the driver's seat. The largest advantage was five points, 24-19, as the Golden Eagles started to pull away late.
SIUE made it close, scrapping for the next four tallies to close within one, but Thomas denied any further threat of a comeback set victory for the Cougars, notching a final kill to seal the deal, 25-23.
Thomas was the leader of Tech's four-headed headed offensive attack, going for a game-high 15 kills. She was also instrumental in helping her team avoid self-inflicted wounds, making only three attack errors for a .429 percentage, also a team best.
The junior from Okemos, Mich., who has been Tech's most consistent offensive threat all season, has now recorded .400-plus hitting percentages in back-to-back matches, and has five such outings for the year.
"What's crazy is that we're getting used to seeing those numbers from her," Waldo said. "As a team, that means we need to make sure we are playing our supporting roles consistently, and not depending on her to do that all the time. But, I also think that it's because of some of our supporting roles that she's allowed to do what she's doing, so it's definitely a team effort."
Erica Grant took over the top scoring role in the second set, collecting six of her 12 kills. It marked nine of 15 career matches with double-digit kills for Grant, who also dug 10 balls to garner her fifth double-double.
The second set was back-and-forth, as Tech had to rise from a small early deficit to open a 10-7 advantage, then let SIUE back out in front, before pulling back even at 19-19.
From there, kills from Ali Verzani, Grant, Taylor Dorsey and Thomas brought TTU within a point of a set victory, before a service ace from Susie Jeziorowski capped it, and gave the Golden Eagles a commanding 2-0 lead in the match.
It was Verzani's turn to shoulder the offensive load in the third set, as she put up seven kills to pace all scorers. The redshirt sophomore would total 12 kills on the evening, and committed only two errors on a team-high 31 attacks, for a tidy .323 percentage. She also added seven digs.
Tech was really forced to show its mettle in a wild third set, as an early surge from the Cougars allowed them a 13-5 advantage, and gave an impression that additional frames would be required to declare a match winner.
And then, the tide changed in favor of the home team.
In what seemed like a flash, three kills from Verzani, one kill each from Grant, Thomas and Abigail Duncan, a service ace from Lauren Toledo, and a host of attack errors by SIUE knotted the score at 16.
To the Cougars credit, they did not fold after seeing their eight-point lead evaporate, and built a 23-21 cushion in the late stages.
After a pair of errors by SIUE leveled it at 23, the match was continuously extended as the two clubs traded points.
The Golden Eagles finally went ahead, 27-26, thanks to another Verzani kill. The visitors would get the next point to force yet another tie, but Verzani would restore the lead for a second time, which set up Rachel Thomas's clincher.
Dorsey netted nine kills on 22 attacks, and led TTU with three blocks.
Per usual, libero Kirsten Brugere led the defensive effort with 16 digs, but was once again supported strongly by junior outside hitter Abigail Duncan, whose 11 digs gave her double digits for the fourth time in five matches.
Susie Jeziorowski's 44 assists up her career total to 1,784, as she inches closer and closer to the 2,000 plateau with nine regular-season matches remaining.
"To get out of here (with a win) after three (sets) is remarkable," Waldo said. "We came out strong, and they bailed us out a little bit, but that gave us some momentum. I think that if they hadn't done that, maybe it would have gone a little longer, but we capitalized when we needed to, which is why we got the result we did."
Eastern Illinois, which downed Jacksonville State in three sets on Friday night, brings its 2-5 conference record to Cookeville for a Saturday afternoon meeting with the Golden Eagles, slated for a 2 p.m. start.
"We're home again tomorrow, which is exciting, and I think the order we play (SIUE and EIU) in is to our advantage as well," Waldo said. "There are different things to focus on with both teams, but I think this confidence should definitely carry over."
Photo by Thomas Corhern