By Jonathan Caudle, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee rallied from a one-set deficit on Friday to claim a four-set victory over Austin Peay, 3-1 (22-25, 25-15, 25-16, 25-19), in the Hooper Eblen Center.
Tech (10-12, 6-3 OVC) snapped a three-game skid against Austin Peay (7-16, 5-4 OVC), dating back to the 2016 season.
"This is a huge win for us. Our last contest against them last year, we went to Clarksville. We were up 2-0 and they rallied to take the match in five," expressed head coach Jeannette Waldo. "We talked about that, and about how we had them on the ropes. That was a huge focus for us, and it really feels good to come out on top this year and get the win. We are definitely going to celebrate this moment, but not for too long, because we have another tough matchup tomorrow evening."
Three Golden Eagles tallied double-digit offensive performances in the win. Junior Ali Verzani led the way with a match-high 21 kills, while also adding 10 digs for her 12th double-double of the season. She also set a new career-high five blocks in the win, surpassing her previous of four from earlier this season. Senior Rachel Thomas and sophomore Taylor Dorsey joined Verzani with 14 kills and 13 kills, respectively. Dorsey tied a career-high nine blocks, narrowly missing a double-double of her own. Sophomore Ashley hand helped lead the Golden Eagles to a .258 hitting performance on the night, tallying 49 assists (12.25 per set) in the four-set victory.
"Ali had a huge presence on the court tonight. Her first contact was absolutely top-notch and she seemed to kill everything in sight," said coach Waldo. "If she didn't get the outcome she wanted, she would have an answer with the very next ball. She played like a captain tonight, and that was just what we needed to do."
Austin Peay opened things up to a 2-1 lead in the opening frame, but the Golden Eagles quickly responded to claim the lead and eventually take a four-point advantage, 13-9. However, the Governors rallied on a 6-2 run to close the gap and even the match at 15. Austin Peay maintained the momentum on an 8-3 run to take a five-point lead with two to go, 23-18. Tech would rally to outscore the Governors 4-2, but it wasn't enough as Austin Peay claimed the first frame, 25-22.
The second set was a battle in which the Golden Eagles would eventually hold a one-point advantage, 11-10. A Verzani kill sparked a 10-2 Golden Eagle run to extend Tech's lead to a huge nine-point advantage, 21-12. Austin Peay would attempt to close the gap, but Tech held on to outscore the Governors 4-3 to close out the set and even the match at one, 25-15.
The third set opened much like the first two as Tech battled back-and-forth with Austin Peay through a 6-6 tie. However, Verzani would once again knock down a clutch kill that led to a 7-1 Tech run to push the Golden Eagles out to a five-point advantage, 13-8. Austin Peay would cut the deficit down by one at 18-14, but Tech locked in to take advantage of four Governor errors and a pair of kills from Thomas and one from Verzani to outscore Austin Peay and take the 2-1 match lead, 25-16.
The Golden Eagles flexed their muscles in the fourth set as they opened the frame on a dominant 7-2 run to spark an early Austin Peay timeout. Tech extended the lead to seven, 10-3, but the Governors would not go away as they rallied to cut the deficit to three, 13-10. Tech would regain their edge as they would eventually close the match on a 12-9 run to claim the four-set victory, 25-19.
The Golden Eagles return to the court tomorrow as they host the Murray State Racers at 7 p.m. in the Hooper Eblen Center.
Photo by Thomas Corhern