The ETSU volleyball team dug itself in a hole early, and despite fighting back to win the third and fourth sets, the Bucs couldn't cap off the rally as UNC Greensboro held on for a five-set win (23-25, 23-25, 25-22, 25-21, 11-15) in the 2013 season opener on Friday at the Deacon Invitational.
Senior outside hitter Megan Devine (Kingsport, Tenn.) notched her 53rd career double-double after finishing with 16 kills and 14 digs, but the reigning Atlantic Sun Player of the Year registered a .190 attack percentage on 49 attempts. Junior Meredith Hardy (Kingsport, Tenn.) led the team with a .400 clip (15-3-30) and added four blocks to extend her streak of recording at least one stuff at the net in 63 consecutive matches. Fellow junior Ivey Rice (Johnson City, Tenn.) added 14 of ETSU's 63 kills, and junior Jamie Rutledge (Kingsport, Tenn.) finished with a match-high 51 assists but committed four ball handling errors.
Unfortunately, the Blue and Gold couldn't stop red-shirt senior Olivia Humphries as the outside hitter led all players with 21 kills and added a team-high 14 digs and five blocks. Senior outside hitter Karrian Chambers also ended with a double-double for the Spartans as she totaled 12 kills and 10 blocks in the season-opening win.
"We showed signs of jitters and had many anxious moments early on, but I think once we settled down we were able to play our game," said head coach Lindsey Devine. "I think we were matched really well as UNCG is also a very physical team. Overall, we battled to the end, but at certain points in the match we took some risks and that's what the preseason is all about. Some plays worked and others didn't."
After dropping two tight sets to begin the match, ETSU bounced back by closing the third set on a 12-3 surge to gain some momentum. With the Bucs trailing 19-13, Devine stepped up and won three of the next four points to pull ETSU within four, 20-16, while the Blue and Gold pulled back ahead, 22-21, courtesy of three straight block assists by Hardy and Bethany Gesell (High Point, N.C.). The Bucs never relinquished their lead and capped off the set win when one of Hardy's six kills in the frame ended the frame. Overall, the junior middle blocker hit .500 in the set (6-1-10), while Devine tallied five of her 16 kills in the third.
Both teams played evenly early on in the fourth set, but with the score knotted at five, ETSU won eight of the next 12 points to open a four-point cushion, 13-9. UNCG never threatened, and despite the Spartans cutting a seven-point deficit to three late in the stanza, Devine silenced any comeback when her fourth kill of the set tied the match at two, 25-21. As a team, the Bucs hit .351 (17-4-37) in the frame, while seven different ETSU players accounted for the 17 kills.
However, after soaring back into the match, the Bucs couldn't complete the rally as UNCG won the fifth and decisive set, 15-11. Once again, play was nip-and-tuck as neither team built a lead larger than two, but after a ball handling error by the Spartans' Emily McMurtrey tied things at 10, ETSU couldn't get over the hump. UNCG won five of the final six points after the unforced error to claim the season-opening win.
The Bucs had chances in the first two sets, but after shaving a four-point deficit to one late in the opening frame, the Spartans hung on for the two-point win when Kelsey Sidney's kill closed out the opener, 25-23. ETSU stormed out in the second as the Blue and Gold won the first five points, and eventually led 23-19 on a kill by Gesell. But unforced errors haunted the Bucs down the stretch as UNCG won the final six points of the stanza – three coming from ETSU ball handling errors – to give the Spartans a commanding lead.
The Bucs and Spartans will become conference foes in 2014 as ETSU is rejoining the Southern Conference on July 1.
The Blue and Gold look to bounce back on Saturday as the Bucs take on host Wake Forest at 12:30 p.m. and wrap up the tournament with East Carolina at 4:30 p.m.
"There were a lot of positives to take away from tonight and we will be up for the challenge tomorrow," said Devine.