By Jonathan Caudle, TTU Sports Information
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Tennessee Tech volleyball team opened its season on Friday as they competed in the Michigan Invitational at the Cliff Keen Arena. The Golden Eagles fell in a pair of matches to open the tournament, falling 3-0 to Northern Arizona and 3-0 against the Oakland Golden Grizzlies.
"This weekend has been great for seeing our depth at game time," expressed head coach Jeannette Waldo. "Playing in a Big Ten arena brought out some gamers and some nerves, but we're learning a lot from one another when the set is on the line and can work in those areas to make us stronger as we get closer to conference play."
In their first matchup of the day, the Golden Eagles battled toe-to-toe with the 2018 Co-Big Sky regular season and 2018 Big Sky tournament champions, but the Lumberjacks claimed three set-clinching runs of 6-3, 7-1, and 9-2 during the three sets to defeat Tech.
Tech opened the first set on a 6-4 run, but NAU responded with a 6-1 run of their own to take the lead. The two teams battled back and forth until an eventual 15-15 tie. The Lumberjacks would then outscore the Golden eagles 4-1 to take a three-point lead, 19-16. Tech would nearly close the gap from a Lumberjack error and a junior Ali Verzani kill, but NAU would produce a 6-3 run to close out the set, 25-21.
The Golden Eagles would take an early lead again in the second set as they opened on a 9-7 run. Tech continued to battle as they held onto their lead as a pair of kills from freshman Dallas Oatis capped an 8-7 run for the Golden Eagles to claim a three-point advantage, 17-14. NAU would get one back as they went 4-3 to bring the game to 20-18 in Tech's advantage, but the Lumberjacks would produce a 7-1 stretch to close out the set and take the two-set lead, 25-21.
Tech continued its early-set success in the third with a 13-8 run to take a five-point lead. NAU worked to bring the deficit down to two at an 18-16 Golden Eagle lead. However much like the previous two sets, the Lumberjacks found an answer to clinch the set as the Golden Eagles would only secure a NAU error and a kill from Verzani during a 9-2 NAU run to close out the match, 25-20.
Oatis led the Golden Eagles offensively with a game-high 15 kills and a phenomenal hitting percentage of .357. She also tallied a pair of block assists and secured a solo block as well against NAU. Verzani and Taylor Dorsey also produced a good offensive performance for Tech as they notched seven and six kills, hitting .125 and .214, respectively. Ashley Hand also collected a match-high 30 assists, while Carly held down the back row with a team-high 13 digs.
Tech looked to bounce back during the second matchup of the day against the Oakland Grizzlies. The Grizzlies took the opening lead but a 3-0 run following a 5-3 Oakland lead gave Tech their first lead of the set. The Grizzlies would respond with a 5-0 run to lead 10-6, but Tech would battle back with a 7-3 run to even things out at 13. Both squads would battle through seven ties to a 21-21 standstill. The Grizzlies would find late success as a 4-0 run would close the set for Oakland, 25-21.
The Grizzlies would control most of the second set taking the early lead and not relinquishing the lead through the set. The produced a .222 hitting performance as the Golden Eagles were held to .097 in the set to give Oakland the 25-21 victory and the two-set advantage.
The closing frame was the Grizzlies best as they would hit for .387, while Tech would only claim a .1 hitting percentage in the closing set. The Golden Eagles fell 25-16 in the final set to the Grizzlies.
Rachel Thomas, Ali Verzani, and Taylor Dorsey led the Golden Eagles offensively, tallying eight, seven, and six kills, respectively. Thomas hit a phenomenal .400 during the match. Ashley Hand produced another match-high 25 assists against the Grizzlies.
Tech will close out the Michigan Invitational on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 1 p.m. with a matchup against host No. 15 Michigan.
Photo by Thomas Corhern