By Jonathan Caudle, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Golden Eagles capped their weekend with a split against Southern Illinois and Middle Tennessee on Saturday to finish in a three-way tie for Golden Eagle Invitational Champions on Saturday at the Hooper Eblen Center.
Tech opened the day with a tough five-set comeback loss to Southern Illinois, before capping the weekend with a dominant four-set victory over C-USA opponent Middle Tennessee in the Golden Eagle Invitational finale.
"We scheduled MTSU as our finale for a reason, we knew it would be a great match," expressed head coach Jeannette Waldo. "We knew it would be really personal, with them being right down the road and having players from Murfreesboro on our team. It was definitely huge for us to bounce back from our loss to SIU and come out with fire to finish in four against an opponent like MTSU."
Tennessee Tech 2 – Southern Illinois 3
Ali Verzani was on fire against the Salukis, tallying her second double-double of the weekend and fifth of the season with her 20 kill, 13 dig performance. Taylor Dorsey and Rachel Thomas also tallied double-digit kill totals with 14 and 13, respectively. Sophomore Ashley Hand dished out 52 assists. Defensively, Carly Skrabak tallied a team-high 19 digs and Dorsey dominated at the net with a match-high five blocks.
The Salukis opened the contest on an 8-2 run before the Golden Eagles would call a timeout. Tech would cut the deficit down to four at 12-8, before Southern Illinois would break away and close the set out on a 13-4 run, 25-12.
Southern Illinois would take the early lead in the second, but the Golden Eagles responded to tie up the match through a 14-14 tie on a Verzani kill. The Golden Eagles wouldn't relinquish the lead from there. The Salukis would knot things up at 15 and 19, but the Golden Eagles would score six unanswered, including a pair of kills from Verzani and one from Dorsey to tie up the match, 25-19.
SIU tallied two-straight points to open the third set, but the Tech quickly responded to take the lead 3-2 off a kill from Verzani and maintain it through a 12-12 tie. The Salukis would go up 13-12, but the Golden Eagles locked in to outscore SIU 12-9 capped by a kill from Dorsey to take the two-set advantage, 25-21.
The Golden Eagles maintained the momentum into the fourth set, leading by as much as 13-6. However, the Salukis would rally with an 11-4 run to close the gap and bring things even at 17. Southern Illinois would take the advantage, but Tech would keep it close and eventually be down only one at set-point, 24-23, but a service error would close out the fourth, 25-23.
The fifth opened to a point-for-point battle to an eventual 5-5 tie. However, the Golden Eagles would break things open following the tie to eventually hold a 12-6 lead. SIU would notch three-straight points before a Thomas kill would put the Golden Eagles within two, 13-9. But Tech wouldn't get any closer as the Salukis held Tech scoreless and tallied six-straight points to take the five-set slugfest, 15-13.
Tennessee Tech 3 – Middle Tennessee 1
Following the opening set, the Golden Eagles absolutely dominated the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders in every facet of the game. As a team, Tech out-killed the Blue Raiders, 60-54, out-hit them, .236-.199, dished out 58 assists to their 53, and out-blocked them 16 to 14.
Sophomore Taylor Dorsey highlighted the Golden Eagles win as she blew out her previous career-high 14 kills, tallying 20 against the Blue Raiders. Dorsey also led Tech at the net, garnering a match-high five blocks. Senior Rachel Thomas and junior Ali Verzani also tallied double-digit kills with 16 and 12, respectively. Sophomore Ashley Hand recorded a match-high 52 assists, and freshman Carly Skrabak tied for a match-high 16 digs in the win.
Tech opened the match with a service ace from Emily Brooks and a kill from Ali Verzani to take a 2-0 lead. The Golden Eagles would extend their lead to as much as four, 11-7, but the Blue Raiders would battle back on a 7-3 run to knot the set up at 14. The two squads would battle point-for-point until the Golden Eagles would bring things even at 24. However, the Blue Raiders got the upper-hand on back-to-back kills from Neimantaite to take the 1-0 lead, 26-24.
However, the rest of the match would be the Golden Eagles. Following a 6-6 draw to open the second set, the Golden Eagles produced a 9-2 run, capped by a pair of Dorsey kills, to take a commanding 15-8 lead over the Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee couldn't overcome the deficit as Tech would ride the advantage to even the match at one, 25-21.
Middle Tennessee responded in the third with a 6-3 run to hold the early lead. The Golden Eagles would respond with a 4-1 run of their own to bring things even at seven. Middle Tennessee would battle Tech through an 18-18 tie, but a 7-4 Golden Eagle run would seal the third set and give Tech the 2-1 set advantage, 25-22.
The final set was Tech's best of the night as they would add a huge exclamation mark to their Golden Eagle Invitational finale.
Tech came out on fire in the fourth as they produced a 7-3 run, capped by a Brooks kill, to spark a Middle Tennessee timeout. The Golden Eagles continued to outplay the Blue Raiders as they would extend their lead to six, 16-10, and causing the Blue Raiders to call a second timeout. However, the Blue Raiders rallied to close the gap to one after an 8-2 run, 19-18. But Tech set their sights on the four-set victory and the Golden Eagles locked down to produce a 6-2 run and defeat Middle Tennessee 3-1, 25-20.
"This weekend was huge for us to close out non-conference play and head into our conference schedule with momentum," said coach Waldo. " We will celebrate tonight, but tomorrow it's time to get back to work and prepare for Jacksonville State."
The Golden Eagles open OVC play with a midweek road tilt against Jacksonville State on Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 6 p.m.
Photo by Jim Dillon