By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Tech volleyball gave Tennessee State everything it could handle over four sets on Saturday afternoon, falling 3-1 in a match not justified by its final score. The loss gives Tech a split of its first two league home games for a 1-3 record in the OVC, and a 7-11 mark for the season.
Despite the final count, the matchup between the Golden Eagles and Tigers was literally as close as they come. The three sets TTU lost were all by a margin of two points, and two of them required extra tallies to declare a winner: 25-23, 26-24, 26-24.
The set with the largest point spread was actually won by Tech, 25-16, meaning the Golden Eagles outscored TSU in terms of cumulative point total, 96-93.
"It was a dogfight for sure," said coach Jeannette Waldo. "They played great defense and really tested us. I thought we were better offensively than we've been in other matches, but they were just able to get hands under the ball every time. To their credit, they were great on that side of the ball, and we just needed a little bit more to pull it out."
Adding credence to Waldo's comments was the fact that TSU recorded 95 team digs, the most by any Tech opponent in a four-set match this season. New Orleans racked up 96 in a five-setter on August 31.
On the flipside, Tennessee Tech put up 90 digs, its top mark for a four-set match in the 2018 campaign. It collected 99 digs in the match against UNO.
Senior libero Kirsten Brugere had a huge part in the defensive effort, hitting the 30-dig plateau for the first time in her career. Outside hitters Ali Verzani, Abigail Duncan and Shealene Little were also committed on the defensive end, recording 15, 14 and 13 digs, respectively.
"I thought our back line did everything it could possibly do," said Waldo of the defense. "I thought our service defense was on point as well, so, from behind the 10-foot line I thought we were pretty solid tonight."
Verzani's team-best 18 kills tied the career high she set earlier this year vs. New Orleans, and gave her her seventh double-double.
The redshirt sophomore from Sioux City, Iowa was the offensive focal point from the get-go for TTU, compiling a career-high 53 attempts, and was productive all day long, picking up four kills in the first set, six in the second, four in the third and four in the fourth.
She was also Tech's cleanest attacker with a .245 percentage, and put up two service aces to pace the Golden Eagles in that category.
"(Ali) was a little bit off in yesterday's match, although we obviously still had enough to get the win," Waldo said. "We sat down and talked through some things that might make it easier for her to score on the outside, and I think today she just got herself dialed in and showed up in a big way for us."
Little added 11 kills to join Saturday's double-double club, her second of the year and 12th in three and a half seasons as a Golden Eagle.
Duncan's double-digit digs marks back-to-back outings with that accomplishment. The junior from Memphis established a new career-high with 18 last night against Belmont.
Taylor Dorsey chipped in nine kills, equaling the fourth-best output of her budding TTU career. The freshman also killed nine balls vs. Evansville on Aug. 24.
While the end result still goes in the loss column, the point remains that Tech went toe-to-toe with a team that is now 4-0 in OVC play and has the makeup to be quite successful down the road.
For Waldo and her staff, that is material that can be used for building positive momentum going forward.
"I think (TSU) is a great team," complimented Waldo. "They have a lot of offensive weapons that they move around, which keeps you on your toes because it's very difficult to try and predict what they're going to do. We had moments where we were right with them – even outplayed them – and moments where we were lacking, but we'll take what happened here today and use it to get better."
TTU will play two conference road matches next week, the first being a rare midweek matchup at Jacksonville State on Tuesday at 6 p.m in lieu of a Friday night tilt.
"It's a little different in that it's just a quickie – down and back," said Waldo. "(Jacksonville State) has been fighting. TSU beat them in four, and the sets were all very close, and I think we'll probably see a very similar team (to TSU). Now, its time to look forward to that match and prepare for (JSU) very quickly."
Next week's Saturday schedule will remain the same as the Golden Eagles will venture to Southeast Missouri for a matchup with the Redhawks at 2 p.m.
Photo by Thomas Corhern