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Gray, Meffert and cheering fans lift Golden Eagles to 3-1 OVC victory

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Sophomore Kelsey Gray notched a double-double the hard way Friday night, combining 11 kills with 10 blocks to help lift Tennessee Tech to a 3-1 Ohio Valley Conference volleyball victory over Jacksonville State in front of an exhuberant and delighted crowd in Eblen Center.

"The team played amazing in the first two sets," Gray said. "I was really proud of the way the team played in the fourth set after we had lost the third set. The crowd really helped us back into it in the fourth set."

Tech has now won four of its last six matches to improved to 4-5 in OVC play and 6-14 overall. Jacksonville State, which came into the match tied for second place in the OVC, slipped to 6-3 within the league and 11-9 overall.

Gray, a 6-2 middle blocker from Newark, Ohio, was one of three Golden Eagles to reach double figures in kills. All-OVC senior Leah Meffert led all players with 17 kills while hitting .364, and senior Marie Peddicord added 10 kills and four total blocks. Freshman libero Allison May had 25 of Tech's 54 digs, while Melanie Culp dished up 42 assists.

Caitlin Vorbeck finished with 15 kills and nine digs for the Gamecocks while Alyx Schulte added 12 kills. Lauren Harkins paced the JSU defense with 20 digs while setter Brooke Schumacher had 35 assists.

"Every win is big, no matter who you're facing," said TTU head coach John Blair. "To have a win like this against a quality opponent says a lot about our team's character.

"Kelsey (pictured at left) revealed the true Kelsey Gray tonight," Blair added. "She did something that she's always been capable of and it was nice to see it tonight. Leah scored so many points tonight. We talked about staying aggressive before the match and she did just that, and she got the big plays when we needed them."

The Golden Eagles led most of the first set, jumping out to a quick 5-0 lead and maintaining an edge before the Gamecocks ralied late to tie the score at 18-18. The visitors tied the contest at 19, 20, 23 and 24 before the Golden Eagles clinched the point with a kill by Gray and a JSU attack error for the 26-24 victory. Tech hit .286 in the opening round as Gray and Meffert led the way. Gray had six kills and a .454 hitting mark while Meffert hit .625 and added five kills. Schulte and Vorbeck had six kills apiece in the first set.

It was at the net that the Golden Eagles dominated in the second set, taking a 25-11 decision for a 2-0 lead in the match. Gray had eight total blocks in the set and Penrod added four as defense was the difference. Tech managed just three kills but took advantage with the blocking game. JSU had six kills but 17 errors in hitting a minus .306 for the set.

"I was pretty excited at the end of the second set," Gray said. "I got two blocks in a row late in the set and the adrenaline really started pumping."

Jacksonville returned from the break to snare the third set, 25-16, breaking away late in the set. Kara Slater, Vorbeck and Schumacher each had kills in the late run and the Golden Eagles aided the visitors with several errors. Harkins also drilled a pair of service aces for the Gamecocks.

Tech bounced back to capture the fourth set, 25-18, to clinch the victory. The Golden Eagles took advantage of some timely hitting and a handful of Gamecock miscues for the winner. Jacksonville State actually took control early, building a 10-4 lead as the Golden Eagle had trouble keeping the ball in play. JSU was still on top by five points, 15-10, before Meffert (pictured at left), Peddicord and freshman Natalie Penrod each slammed home kills to ignite Tech's comeback. Three consecutive attack errors by JSU pushed Tech to a 19-17 lead, and the Golden Eagles grabbed control. Penrod and Gray had kills, Laura Pierce served an ace, and Tech finished it off with two kills by Meffert and one from Gray.

Meffert was nearly flawless in the fourth set with seven kills in nine swings without an error for a .778 hitting mark.