By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – In a match that followed almost the exact same script as the first meeting between the two teams, Tennessee Tech volleyball fell in five grueling sets to Eastern Kentucky on Saturday afternoon in the Hooper Eblen Center.
The loss moves Tech's record to 9-17 and 3-9 in the Ohio Valley Conference, and marks the only time this season that the Golden Eagles have been swept at home on a conference weekend.
"Both times we've played (Eastern Kentucky) it's been like a boxing match," said coach Jeannette Waldo. "We've gone back and forth and both teams have been fired up at different times and excelled in different areas. I'm not sure why that is with this team in particular, but I felt like we were one player short offensively tonight."
Ali Verzani recorded her second career 20-kill match to lead the Golden Eagles in scoring, and tallied a team-high four of those in a very evenly-matched first set. The Sioux City, Iowa native put forth a complete effort, attacking cleanly with a .275 attack rate, and adding 10 digs for her 11th career double-double.
"I thought Ali played great all around," Waldo said. "She was digging balls, she was a solid serve-receive presence, she was attacking from both the front and back row and she was playing fearlessly. She made some errors, but we wanted her to take some swings so that later on those would turn into kills."
While EKU was ahead for almost the entire opening game, Tech was never far behind. After spotting the Colonels the first three points out of the gate, TTU would never let the deficit reach more than four, and continued to chip away until a pair of EKU errors brought new life with a 22-22 tie. Another Eastern Kentucky error gave the Golden Eagles their only lead, but it was short-lived, as the visitors would score the next three in a row to clinch the opening victory.
TTU bounced back in the second behind four kills from Taylor Dorsey, who posted a second terrific performance on the weekend with 13 kills on 30 attempts for a .300 hitting percentage. The 13 kills were one short of her career-high 14.
"Taylor was great today as well," said Waldo. "She was available a lot for us offensively and she didn't just put balls away, she put them away with authority. Her and Ali's performances both stand out in a very positive way."
"Some things are definitely starting to click for (Dorsey). She's very competitive, so I know these outcomes are very frustrating for her because she wants to be able to do more, but we just have to keep telling her that she's doing what we need her to do. She's doing great things for us."
Tech broke the second set open near the midway point, posting a 10-5 run after an 11-11 tie for a 21-16 advantage. EKU got back to within two at 24-22, but Rachel Thomas sealed the deal with one of her 12 kills to even the match at one.
Thomas took a .242 attack percentage for the day, and was Tech's most active front line defender with a game-high seven blocks.
TTU led the first part of the third set, but EKU tied it and eventually took control. With the score 18-16 in favor of the Colonels, the set would slip away from the Golden Eagles, as EKU would mount a 7-2 run on its way to the set victory.
In the fourth set, Susie Jeziorowski assisted Tech to its best team hitting percentage of any of the five periods, .229. The senior from Green Lake, Wis. targeted Verzani and Dorsey most often in the fourth, as both tallied five kills.
Jeziorowski finished with 50 assists for the match, the fifth time this season she has hit the half-century mark in a single outing.
The fourth set started out as the tightest of the match, as the teams were separated by no more than two points for the majority of it. The margin would be increased with a key 5-0 Tech run in the late stages that made it 23-17, and that was all the home team would need to extend the match to a fifth set.
The two clubs traded blows to start the fifth set, and EKU held an 8-6 lead when they switched sides at the midway point. Tech stayed within two until back-to-back Colonel tallies made it 13-9. Three straight scores for the Golden Eagles got it back to one point, but EKU would get the next two to secure the match victory.
For Duncan, it was the seventh time in 10 matches that she's been in double digits for digs, as she continues to help senior libero Kirsten Brugere keep balls off the floor in the back court.
"She's definitely been embracing being more of a backcourt player," explained Waldo. She was kind of going back and forth, playing both front row and back row, so I think when anyone gets to focus on just one aspect of the game, they're going to get better at it."
"We need to find more production from our second outside attacker," said Waldo on the difference in the match. "Ali's doing a nice job, but the other outside spot is just a revolving door right now, and someone has to decide they're going to own up and bring some points to the table from that position. It doesn't have to be a lot of points – obviously – we were that close as it was."
Tech will be back in action next weekend when it heads to Nashville for showdowns with Tennessee State on Friday night at 6 p.m. and Belmont on Saturday at 2.
Photo by Thomas Corhern