SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Jacksonville University volleyball held off a vehement comeback by USC Upstate to remain unblemished in ASUN Conference action with a 3-2 victory, Friday evening at the G.B. Hodge Center.
"What a battle at the Hodge tonight. USC Upstate made some adjustments at the break and they came out with fire. I like that we never gave up and we chose to battle and respond," said Head Coach Julie Darty. "Our defense made some adjustments late to make some big plays and give our attackers opportunities and I think we played with composure when we really needed to."
The Dolphins took the first two sets handily, 25-16 and 25-19, before the Spartans returned from the intermission to even the match with the next two sets, 25-21, 25-16. Jacksonville outlasted Upstate in the deciding fifth set, 17-15.
A trio of Dolphins set new career bests as seniors Jessica Armstrong and Olga Nushtayeva were unstoppable at the net with seven blocks each, and sophomore Alleah Stamatis posted a career-best 50 assists.
Sophomores Mallory Mattingly and Natalie Wehner posted double-doubles for the second match in a row as Mattingly finished with 16 kills and 14 digs, while Wehner added 12 kills and 21 digs. Nushtayeva and sophomore Amarrah Cooks also had double-digit kills with 10 apiece. A dual threat, Cooks led the team hitting .368 and added five blocks.
The Dolphins hit .273 in the first set and .286 in the final set to stifle the Spartans and improve to 7-7 overall and 2-0 in the ASUN. USC Upstate falls to 4-11 overall and 1-1 in league play.
Added Darty, "Our offense was well-balanced and it was great to see Jessica back in the lineup doing big things for us offensively and defensively. I love that our middles – Olga and Amarrah – got that involved in our offense tonight and credit is due to our passers and Alleah with her decision-making. We handled the ball incredible well and Alleah did a great job of finding the hot hand and getting the job done.
"We came in, we battled, and we got it done."
It was all Jacksonville from first serve to last kill in the opening set as the Dolphins opened the first set with a 7-1 lead. Wehner, Cooks, and Mattingly all found ways to score before USC Upstate called for a timeout. The Spartans found a spark on a 5-2 rally to come within three, 9-6, but JU took off with five straight points to hold a 17-9 advantage. USC Upstate worked to find points, but the Dolphins shut the hosts down on a kill from Cooks for a 25-16 win.
Despite an early 3-1 lead, USC Upstate negated their deficit on four straight points to lead 5-3 early in the second set. The Spartans' lead didn't last long as freshman Kendall Murr and Mattingly led the Dolphins on a 4-1 rally to regain the lead, 9-8. In the middle of the set, kills from Armstrong bookended an ace from Mattingly, while Cooks added a kill to keep JU ahead, 14-11. Upstate managed to tie the set at 14, but the Dolphins used a media timeout to their advantage shot out to a six-point lead, 20-14. Despite a four-point rally from the Spartans to come within two, 20-18, the Dolphins finished the set on a 5-1 run to take the second set, 25-19.
Ten ties in the score highlighted the intensity of the third set, as the Dolphins were forced to play catch up. Down three, the Dolphins went on a 4-1 run behind kills from Nushtayeva and Mattingly to surge the Dolphins back within one, 17-16. The teams traded points down the stretch, but the Dolphins just fell short, 25-21, as the Spartans forced a fourth set.
USC Upstate opened the fourth with a 6-1 lead before the Dolphins called for a timeout. Jacksonville come back within two, 6-4. Despite exchanging points, the hosts remained ahead with a 13-8 advantage. A 7-3 run from the Spartans put the set out of reach, 18-11, as Upstate forced a deciding fifth set, 25-16.
Back-to-back kills from Wehner and Nushtayeva gave the Dolphins a 5-3 lead, but the hosts wouldn't go easily and tied the set five more times. Ahead 9-8, the Spartans took the next three points to erase their deficit and take an 11-9 lead as the Dolphins called for a timeout. Mattingly and Wehner sandwiched a Spartan point and force USC Upstate to take a timeout with a slim 12-11 lead. Facing match point at 14-12, Wehner and Mattingly found holes in the Spartans' defense and an Upstate miscue surged the Dolphins ahead, 15-14. The Spartans tied the set at 15 coming out of a timeout, but Nushtayeva answered back and a Spartan error lifted the Dolphins, 17-15, for a 3-2 win.
The Dolphins return to the court Sunday, Oct. 1 when they head to NJIT for a noon match.