Volleyball fails to close things out in 3-2 loss to Mercer
Senior outside hitter Sara Bendorf
Senior outside hitter Sara Bendorf
Senior outside hitter Sara Bendorf, sophomore middle blocker Abby Gruenbacher and sophomore setter Hannah Munneke each tallied double-doubles but the Dolphins could not close match points in sets four and five as the JU volleyball team fell to Mercer, 3-2 (25-18, 18-25, 25-18, 28-30, 14-16), Saturday afternoon in the A-Sun “Match of the Week” at the University Center.

JU (17-9, 12-6) hit .197 in the contest and had a match-high 17 service aces but tallied a match-high 13 blocks and held leads of 28-27 (set four) and 14-13 (set five) to have chances to end the contest. Mercer (18-8, 13-5), which has won 12 of its last 14 matches, took sole possession of the third seed in the A-Sun Tournament after rallying from a 2-1 deficit.

“We played a mirror image of ourselves today and couldn’t keep up,” said JU head coach Shaun Kupferberg. “They wanted it more, so in the end they got the win. If our mental focus ever matches our physical gifts, we are going to be a great team. Until then, we will just be average.”

Gruenbacher tallied a career-high 19 kills to go with a match-high .395 (19-4-38) hitting percentage and a match-high 11 blocks. Bendorf finished with 19 kills and 10 digs to tally her team-leading 11th double dip. Munneke notched 25 assists and 10 digs while junior libero Shelley Walroth recorded 29 digs.

Sophomore outside hitter Aidan Yeager chipped in with 15 kills, five blocks and four digs while freshman setter Ashley August set a career-best 30 assists. Junior outside hitter Brooke Singleton added 15 digs, seven kills and four blocks and junior middle blocker Nicki Kent finished with five kills, four blocks and four digs.

Karen Dorris (16 kills, 15 digs), Kelly Jansen (27 assists, 11 digs) and Chelsea Gebben (15 assists, 10 digs) each tallied double-doubles to lead the Bears. Libby Hansch finished with 11 kills and four blocks while Claire Tucker notched a match-high 37 digs. Erica Vrvilo also added 10 kills.

In the first set, JU jumped out to an early 7-2 lead after a bad set by Jansen but the Bears cut the deficit to 10-8 with a kill by Hansch. The Dolphins pushed the advantage to 17-12 after an attack error by Dorris and then used a 4-0 run to make it 21-13. Mercer cut the margin to five (23-18) after an attack error by the Dolphins but a kill by sophomore middle blocker Brittany Lehman and a block by Lehman and Gruenbacher gave JU a 1-0 lead.

In the second frame, both teams battled through six ties until the Bears used a 3-0 run to take a 16-13 advantage. After a kill by Bendorf, Mercer used a 3-0 run to make it 19-14 on a block by Dorris and Krista Hurley. JU would get no closer the rest of the way as the Bears evened the match.

In the third stanza, both teams went through three ties until JU used a 5-1 run to open up a 9-5 advantage. The Dolphins increased the lead to 12-7 with a block by Gruenbacher and Lehman and both teams would exchange points until a JU opened a 17-11 lead with a block by Kent and Singleton. Mercer would get no closer than four points the rest of the way as JU recaptured the lead, 2-1.

In the fourth set, Mercer jumped out to an early 4-1 lead but JU evened the contest (8-8) with a block by Singleton and Gruenbacher. The Bears answered with a 5-1 run, capped by a block by Amiee Frutchey and Hansch, to open up a 13-9 lead. Mercer made it 18-13 with a block by Hurley and Dorris but JU answered with a 4-1 run, capped by a kill by Gruenbacher, to cut the margin to 19-17. Both teams traded points until the Dolphins used a 3-0 run to even the match (24-24) with a block by Gruenbacher and Singleton. After one more tie, JU used a 2-0 run to take a 27-26 lead on a kill by Bendorf. Mercer answered with a 2-0 run to take a 28-27 advantage but the Dolphins evened the margin one more time with a block by Bendorf and Kent. Mercer would even the match though by ending the set with a pair of kills by Dorris.

In the final frame, both teams went through two ties until JU used a 2-0 run to take a 4-2 lead. The Dolphins increased the margin to 6-3 with a block by Yeager and Kent but the Bears rallied to tie the contest (7-7) with an attack error by the Dolphins. JU answered with a 2-0 run to make it 9-7 but the Bears answered right back with a 3-0 run to take a 10-9 lead. After both teams traded a point, JU used a 2-0 run to take a 12-11 advantage on an attack error by Anna Coursey. Mercer countered again with a 2-0 run to open up a 13-12 lead but the Dolphins answered with a kill by Gruenbacher and an ace by Walroth to hold match point (14-13). The Bears would immediately counter though with 3-0 run, fueled by three consecutive blocks, to seal the match.

JU returns home for its final two matches of the regular season beginning with Stetson on Friday at 7 p.m. The contest can be seen live on ASun.TV.