JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In a match between the top two Atlantic Sun teams, East Tennessee State and Jacksonville University, it was no surprise that Friday night’s game at Swisher went five sets. JU volleyball won the first set, came from 2-1 down, and fiercely beat the undefeated Bucs, 3-2 [25-19, 22-25, 20-25, 25-20, 15-13].
The Dolphins (17-2 overall, 7-1 A-sun) improve to seven straight wins.
Jacksonville continued to fight while down two sets to one, holding a 12-5 advantage in the fourth after tallying five straight points from one service error, three attack errors and a Sammie Strausbaugh kill. ETSU came within six at 16-10 and tallied four straight to stand three behind at 23-20, but JU won, breaking away with a Gabriela Roman kill and an attack error.
“We knew that that was going to be a tough match for us,” Head Coach Michelle Collier said. “We had to make some adjustments. Their outsides were playing really well, so we knew we had to try to slow them down and one of the things we did well in the first game was serving and then we kind of missed a couple serves in the third game and let them get on their flow and let them get a little more confident.
“So we knew we had to get back with our serving and that we had nothing to lose,” Collier continued. “We had to leave everything out on the court and believe that we could win this match and that’s what [we] did.”
The final set was the most hold-your-breath, tighten-your-knuckles game, with 10 ties and four lead changes. Both teams earned chunks of points, but it was also back and forth until JU led 14-12. The Bucs killed to stand at 14-13, but a following service error caused Jacksonville to erupt in celebration.
JU opened the match with confidence, hitting to an 8-4 lead on six straight and gathering pockets of points to take control. JU hit 22 percent over ETSU’s 14 percent, leading 17-9, 22-17 and eventually 25-19 for the win.
“We knew we wanted to start strong,” Collier said. “I think our serving worked well, really well in the first set, and that was one of the things we knew we were going to have to do against [ETSU] to just to keep them out of system a little bit.
“We knew that every set that we could get was going to be important, so whether it was the first, second, third, fifth, we knew it was going to be a battle and so we were happy to come out on top [in the first], but we knew there was also a match left and so it was good momentum booster for us and it helped us get on the right track.”
JU controlled the second set at 6-1 before ETSU took a 10-9 advantage and either held a tie – there were seven total – or led. The Bucs improved from 18-17 to 21-17, and although the Dolphins rallied to come within one at 22-23, the Bucs won the second to tie the match 1-1.
ETSU won its second straight in the third set. The Bucs broke away from a 10-9 deficit to a 14-10 lead from three kills and two attack errors. JU scored within three points, down 23-20, but the Bucs took the final two points on a kill and attack error.
On defense, senior Alyssa Robertson earned a career-high 10 total blocks, with eight assists and two solos. Kylie Jacob (5) and Taylor Nyquist (4) followed in block assists, while Roman, Kendall Courtney and Strausbaugh each made three. Courtney and Rachel Miller recorded 13 digs apiece, while Strausbaugh and Roman had nine. Offensively, Strausbaugh led the Dolphins with 14 kills, while Nyquist and Roman each made 12. Robertson tallied two service aces and Courtney had one.
“The seniors are amazing; it’s been a great year for them. They’re definitely great leaders about what we’re building here at Jacksonville,” Collier said. “They’re playing hard and they knew what it was like last year when we went five with them … so we knew it was always a battle against them… and our seniors just kept everybody in check and kept pushing it and they came out big at big moments and that’s what seniors do, so I was happy.”
Next, Jacksonville is back in action tomorrow at 3 p.m. when hosting USC Upstate in Swisher.
“Upstate is coming together and every team is going to come here and try to beat us. The better you do, the harder the teams are going to come after you and so we got to be ready for that.”