MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Scrappy play combined with career nights from several Dolphins helped the Jacksonville University volleyball team snap a three-game skid as JU defeated Western Carolina, 3-1, at the ISTAP Collegiate Cup Invitational, hosted by Alabama State, Friday evening.
"It was a total team win, across the board," said Head Coach Julie Darty. "There were some scrappy plays that made for some big energy and momentum moments. When the girls keyed in on not letting the ball die if they could get to it, I think they surprised themselves a little bit, but those surprises turned into breeding confidence and communication on the floor."
Sophomore Alleah Stamatis set a new career-best with 49 assists. Added Darty, "Alleah did a nice job of balancing the offense. When you look at the distribution between all of our attackers, I'm pretty happy with it. Overall, the thing that stands out to me is the total team defensive effort. Kendall Murr coming in with 21 digs was just solid and a great freshman performance right there, and 10 team blocks was huge too. Overall, we just bought into the things we needed to in order to win."
Murr scooped a career-best 21 digs to lead the team.
Senior Cristina Finan and sophomore Mallory Mattingly posted double-doubles to lead the Dolphins. Finan recorded a season-high 16 kills and 14 digs, while Mattingly nabbed her third double-double of the season and 13th of her career with 15 kills and 12 digs.
"Both of our outsides, Mal and Tina, having double-doubles was a huge piece of the puzzle. When we get consistent numbers like that from them, it opens up a lot of opportunities," Darty said.
Sophomore Amarrah Cooks also added double-digit kills with 11 and added a season-best six blocks, including two solo, and three other Dolphins posted double-digit digs.
"Amarrah was great today," added Darty. "She's a force to be reckoned with at the net and she did a really nice job early blocking their outside and getting those outsides across the net scared and nervous of her block."
"I'm excited for tomorrow, I think there are some outside distractions, but we just want to take care of business."
Jacksonville improves to 3-4 on the year, while Western Carolina falls to 1-6 overall.
It was Dolphin volleyball from start to finish in the first set as JU leapt out to a 5-1 lead behind points from Cooks, senior Olga Nushtayeva, Mattingly, and Finan. A 6-2 run from JU gave the Dolphins an 11-3 advantage before the Catamounts called for a timeout in hopes of stalling Jacksonville's impressive offense. The Dolphins again doubled Western Carolina's output and extended their lead to 19-7, when the 'Cats called for their second timeout. WCU's efforts to stunt Jacksonville's chemistry on the court was in vain as JU allowed the Catamounts only five more points en route to a 25-12 dominating performance in the first set.
Western Carolina began to find its footing in the second set and managed to secure a 5-1 advantage early on. The Dolphins, however, had other plans and used kills from Finan, Mattingly, and freshman Hannah Marchand to knot the set at 7-all. Both teams exchanged points, as Jacksonville answered every WCU test as neither side took a larger lead than three before the set was tied again at 19. From there, the Catamounts rallied with a 5-1 run to force the set to game point, 24-20. With Murr leading the charge at the service line, the Dolphins capitalized on kills from Nushtayeva and Cooks, along with two Catamount errors, to erase their four-point deficit and knot the set for the 11th time, 24-24. Western Carolina was able to squeak past two kills and tie the match, 26-24.
The Dolphins returned to themselves in the third game, matching out to a 7-1 advantage before the Catamounts called for a timeout. Jacksonville never allowed the 'Cats to take the lead in the set, despite a 6-1 run fresh out of their timeout to bring the score within one, 8-7. With points going both teams' way, Jacksonville finally broke loose on a 5-2 streak behind two kills each from Mattingly and Nushtayeva for a 13-9 lead. JU didn't allow more than one Catamount point until set point at 24-17, when the Dolphins stifled a four-point attempted rally from WCU with a crushing kill from Cooks to seal the set, 25-20.
Early pressure from Western Carolina in the form of an early 3-0 propelled the Dolphins back to their scrappy play and fought for every point in the middle of the set. After securing a 6-5 lead, JU faced Catamount answers to each of its points in the middle of the set and allowed the 'Cats to lead only once more in the set, at 15-14. Seven consecutive points from the Dolphins later, WCU was staring down a seven-point deficit, 22-15. Only one more Catamount point was allowed, before a Marchand solo block and back-to-back kills from Marchand and Finan gave the Dolphins its final 25-16 victory.
Gabby Gray led Western Carolina with nine kills, while Meagan Sanchez posted a team-high 11 digs.
Jacksonville returns to action tomorrow, Sept. 9, at 10:00 am EDT when it squares off with Southeastern Louisiana. The Dolphins then have a break before returning to the court to meet the tournament hosts, Alabama State, at 7:00 pm EDT.
For in-game coverage of tomorrow's matches, follow Jacksonville Volleyball on Twitter at @JUVolleyball.