Tech’s volleyball team, winners of six of their last seven matches heading into last weekend, split two five-set matches on the road. The team defeated Wake Forest 3-2 on Friday but fell short at Duke by the same score on Saturday. In each match, Tech dropped the first two sets before recovering to win sets three and four and reach the final set.
Against Wake, the Jackets got off to a fast start in the first set but allowed Wake to reach a 20-20 tie. After Tech recovered and took a 23-21 lead, the Demon Deacons, led by three points from sophomore Lauren McIntyre, rallied back to take the first set 26-24. Wake controlled the second set from the start, jumping out to an 11-5 lead. Tech fought back to narrow the deficit to 23-21, but Wake closed it out, winning 25-21 to open up a 2-0 lead in the match.
Tech looked to shore up its defense in the final three sets, focusing on containing Wake middle hitter Natalie Mullikin, who had keyed their attack with seven kills in the first two sets.
The third set was highly contested with 14 ties and four lead changes. With the score tied at 23, junior outside hitter Chrissy DeMichelis notched two straight kills to win the third set.
“Both teams started off hot offensively, but we just couldn’t seem to turn the momentum until the very end of game three,” said Head Coach Bond Shymansky in a press release.
The team capitalized on that momentum in the middle of the fourth set. Down 13-10, Tech reeled off nine straight points and rolled to a 25-19 victory, tying the match and reaching the decisive fifth set. In that final set, Tech once again fell behind, this time by a score of 9-6; however, freshman Bailey Hunter’s kill and subsequent block started a 5-0 run that led to a 15-12 victory, giving Tech the win.
The excellent defensive effort held Wake’s Mullikin to a .000 hit percentage over the final three sets. Additionally, four Tech players notched at least ten digs in the game. Senior libero Michelle Kandell had 20 to lead the team, and senior setter Allie Niekamp had 10 digs to go with 62 assists. The offense remained strong throughout, as four players also had double-digit kills, led by 19 from DeMichelis.
Facing ACC co-leader Duke the following night, Tech once again dropped the first two sets. Duke outside hitter Rachael Moss helped the Blue Devils set the tempo early, posting four kills and three digs as they cruised to a 25-17 win in the first set. In the second set, Moss again fueled a large early lead, but DeMichelis helped Tech to close the gap to 22-21. However, the Jackets could not finish the comeback, and Duke took the final three points to win the second set 25-21.
The third game was close most of the way; Duke held a slight lead until late in the set, Tech fought back to take a 23-21 lead and won the set 25-23 to remain alive in the match.
In the fourth, a similar theme presented itself when Tech fell behind early. Down 12-8, Tech rallied back to take a lead, which they held until the Blue Devils tied the game at 19. Tech closed out the set with a 6-0 run, keyed by a tandem block by Hunter and junior rightside hitter Brittany Roderick, and took the set 25-19 to tie the match.
In the final set, however, the Jackets could not recover from an early deficit. Duke jumped out of the gate and won easily, 15-9, to take the match.
“We came out flat tonight, but we played our hearts out…I was impressed with the tenacity that our team showed to take it to the fifth game,” Shymansky said.
Kandell had her second straight 20-dig game with 25 on the night, and sophomore setter Mary Ashley Tippins recorded 47 assists to go with 12 digs and five blocks
Tech currently stands fourth in the ACC with a 10-5 conference record (and an 18-7 overall record), but is just one game behind conference co-leaders Duke, Clemson, and North Carolina. The team makes its final road trip of the season this weekend, travelling to Florida for two critical ACC matches, looking to gain ground in the race.
Tonight, Tech faces Miami, whose 21-5 record is the best overall record in the ACC. The Cane’s 9-5 conference record has them half a game behind Tech. The Jackets lost to the Hurricanes at home in a 3-1 match on October 4. On Sunday, Tech faces Florida State, whom they swept 3-0 on October 3.