By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Tech volleyball welcomed Morehead State inside the Hooper Eblen Center Friday night and found out its guest was as good as advertised, as the Golden Eagles fell to the second-place Eagles, 3-1, in an Ohio Valley Conference match.
The loss, which is just Tech's fourth at home this season, moved its record to 9-16 overall and 3-8 in the OVC. Morehead improves to 17-7, 8-3.
"We didn't really have any offense to speak of tonight," said head coach Jeannette Waldo. "We had some out of our middles but they were covered up defensively really well, so we needed to push the ball out to our (outside hitters), and (they) weren't delivering."
The middle blockers played a significant role in Tennessee Tech jumping out to a 1-0 lead after the first set, as it got five kills from Rachel Thomas and three from Taylor Dorsey. Outside hitter Ali Verzani also chipped in with four kills in the opening stanza.
The set started out as a slugfest over the first few points until Tech broke a 7-7 tie with three straight tallies to force a Morehead timeout. The Golden Eagles would never give up that lead, and stretched it to as many as six points, as it kept MSU at arm's reach throughout the period en route to a 25-21 victory.
"We were siding out really fast," said Waldo of the success in the first set. "They would get the ball, and then we would get it back immediately. We were siding-out at 72 percent, which is a very, very high percentage to be doing that. After that, we didn't find any consistency, nor a sense of urgency to be able to do that again."
Verzani, Thomas and Dorsey ended up as Tech's top three scorers in the match.
Verzani led the way with 15 kills, but struggled to put the ball away consistently against Morehead's blocking defense, which leads the conference in blocks per set (2.23) as well as opponent hitting percentage (.156).
"(Morehead State is) big up front, and they are definitely a good blocking unit," Waldo said. "There were times where I would look over at (assistant coach) Zach (Weinberg) and ask, 'are they really that good?' They're really fast over there. They move to side-to-side really quickly, and they obviously focus on that a lot. We just don't see that every day."
Thomas was one kill away from double digits with nine, and co-led the team with three blocks along with Shaneice James.
Dorsey had the most complete offensive match of any of the Golden Eagles, as she killed eight balls on 16 attempts with three errors for a team-leading .312 attack percentage.
"It helps when you can hit over people," said Waldo of Dorsey's night. "She's the only one out there right now for us who can consistently do that. Rachel typically finds a way, but it was obvious they knew they had to shut her down in order to be successful tonight."
After an assertive effort from Morehead in the second set tied the match at one, Tech regrouped for a pivotal third period.
A re-inspired Tech team was out in front of Morehead throughout the early stages of the third, holding two separate three-point leads at 9-6 and 13-10.
The tide would turn, however, as MSU would fight back to tie the set at 17, then pull ahead 22-19 before TTU's attempt to kill the momentum with a timeout.
The Golden Eagles would score the next point on a Dorsey kill to get within a couple, but were unable to do any further damage, falling 25-21.
With the count 8-5 in the fourth set, Morehead State went on one more sizable run to open the lead up to 21-12, which was all the room it would need to secure the victory.
Susie Jeziorowski supplied one of the other bright spots in the match for TTU totaling 37 assists, and was steady all night long, as she did not commit a single ball handling error.
Unsung senior leader Kirsten Brugere anchored the backcourt with 24 digs.
"(Morehead) has some great strengths offensively and defensively – they're very balanced," said Waldo. "I think every team strives to be balanced in that way, and not one-dimensional. That type of consistency is something every team aspires to have."
Tech will host Eastern Kentucky (3-20, 2-9 OVC) on Saturday afternoon in the second half of its home doubleheader weekend. That match, an important one for the Golden Eagles' conference tournament hopes, is set to begin at 2 p.m.
Photo by Thomas Corhern