By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – In almost a mirror image of their doubleheader last Friday at the Leatherneck Invitational, Tennessee Tech volleyball won its first match of the day, and fell in a back-and-forth, five-set thriller in the nightcap.
Tech took on USC Upstate in its first match and seemingly rode some momentum from last night's victory, downing the Spartans in three sets: 25-22, 25-23, 25-23.
Erica Grant posted her third career double-double, tallying 18 kills (career-high) and 13 digs to lead the Golden Eagles in both categories. The freshman outside hitter also notched a hitting percentage of .316.
Setter Susie Jeziorowski turned in her first double-double of the night, putting up 41 assists and 10 digs. It was the fourth time in five games that Jeziorowski went for at least 40 assists in a game. However, she would make her presence known in a even bigger way in Friday evening's tilt with New Orleans.
Rachel Thomas put together a solid performance against Upstate as well, recording eight kills and no errors on 21 attacks for a team-leading attack rate of .381.
Ali Verzani was the only other Golden Eagle to reach double-digit kills, collecting 10 to go with seven digs.
While a blowout seems evident by the 3-0 match score, the set scores show just how close it was between the two clubs, a point echoed by Tech head coach Jeannette Waldo.
"It was a huge accomplishment for us to get out of that first match 3-0," said Waldo. "They're a great team and they were putting up a fight for sure. We were spreading the ball nicely offensively, we were serve-receiving well and defending well and I think we just had more things going in our favor."
"When things got tight, we just talked about how we needed to work really hard to close them out over the last four points, or we were going to have to play another whole set. Needless to say, they responded well to the idea."
Prior to the game, Waldo was presented with a game ball commemorating last night's win over Hampton, her first as Tech's head coach in the Hooper Eblen Center.
"I didn't know it was coming," she said. "They asked for a ball for a promotional event, and lo and behold, there came a little presentation for my first (home) win, so obviously that was awesome. It was so cool being able to have that moment of having the ball given to you by your athletic director on our court."
After a game in between, TTU would take the floor against New Orleans around 6 p.m. for the second half of its busy Friday.
The back end of a doubleheader is always a test of a team's emotional, mental and physical stamina, and Tech nearly head enough to come out on top, but fell in five sets: 26-24, 21-25, 25-23, 23-25, 12-15.
"(New Orleans) (was) a great team," said Waldo. "They will have a lot of success this season, I'm sure. Defensively, nothing drops against them. They wanted every single ball. I talked to some of their players after the match and told them how frustrated they made us."
"I think it was great for our girls to see that not everyone is just going to let us score at will. You win a couple of games 3-0 and start to expect some balls to fall that normally fall and this time, they didn't. We got frustrated, and we'll just have to work through some of that."
While the season is still very young, this Tech team has already shown on several occasions the ability to hang tough and keep battling, regardless of the odds.
One of these examples showed up in the opening set vs. UNO with the Golden Eagles on the verge of falling in an early hole.
With Tech trailing 24-20 and receiving the serve from the Privateers, Jeziorowski set up four straight kills – two from Shealene Little, one from Verzani and one from Thomas – to knot it at 24.
Perhaps a little shell-shocked from their opponent's desperate rally, UNO committed two straight attack errors to concede the opening set.
As is often the case in matches that go the distance, several Golden Eagles put up impressive numbers in the loss.
Susie Jeziorowski completed her epic day with a career-high 57 assists against New Orleans, in addition to 18 digs. This marks the second time in six games this year that Jeziorowski has hit the 50-assist plateau, a mark she had never previously met in her first three years at TTU.
Verzani and Grant also collected double-doubles in the match.
Verzani was Jeziorowski's favorite target, notching career-highs in kills (18) and attacks (48). She would also finish with 13 digs, two blocks and a respectable .292 attack percentage, which led the team.
Grant posted 15 kills and a career-high 20 digs. Those numbers gave the Lindenhurst, Ill. native her fourth double-double in six career games and maintained her season-long streak of double-digit kills.
Little fell just short of the feat, racking up 12 kills and nine digs.
Thomas added 14 kills along with a team-high six blocks.
Brugere matched a career high, totaling 28 digs in a match for the second time. The first was October 14, 2017 against Murray State.
"We talked in the locker room about how it was the intangibles that made us lose this match, not the production," said Waldo of the impressive stat lines. "It was that we weren't playing our type of game emotionally. Instead of the game coming easy and feeling slowed down, it felt sped up, and we found ourselves dwelling on the point that was just scored instead of looking forward."
"You learn from it. You move on to the next match and hope that you learn something that helps you later on down the line."
TTU will wrap up tournament play Saturday against East Carolina, who dropped its only match to Hampton on Friday. First serve is scheduled for 2 p.m.
Photo by Thomas Corhern