Volleyball goes 1-1 in home set

Tech volleyball, which had won seven of its first nine ACC contests, returned home for a pair of conference matches last weekend. The Jackets swept Wake Forest 3-0 (25-14, 25-18, 25-13) on Friday night but fell in a close battle against Duke, losing 3-2 (25-23, 21-25, 19-25, 25-23, 15-11) in their annual “Dig for the Cure” match.

With the split, the Jackets moved to 14-7 overall on the season, and they are currently third in the ACC with an 8-3 record in conference play. The loss to Duke was Tech’s first home defeat of the season after the Jackets opened the season with 11 wins at O’Keefe Gym.

The Jackets were sharp in the first game of the weekend though, sweeping the Demon Deacons in a match that lasted just 75 minutes. Tech players combined for five solo blocks and 17 block assists as they held Wake to a hit percentage of .000.

Wake opened up a 3-1 lead as the match began, but it was short-lived. The Jackets took 16 of the next 19 points to open a big lead and cruised to a 25-14 first set victory. Sophomore outside hitter Bailey Hunter had five kills in the set, including the clinching point, as Tech took an early lead in the match.

Tech began to build an early lead in the second set before a six-point Wake run put the Deacons ahead 10-7. The Jackets responded with an 11-2 run, getting three kills apiece from sophomore middle blocker Asia Stawicka, senior outside hitter Chrissy DeMichelis and freshman rightside hitter Monique Mead over that stretch. Wake was unable to recover, and Tech took the second set 25-18.

The Jackets did not have an extensive run in the final set, but they put together four consecutive points on four separate occasions. Wake committed eight attack errors, two of which were the result of Tech blocks, as the Jackets rolled to a 25-13 victory that clinched the match.

Hunter and DeMichelis had 10 kills each to pace the attack, and the Jackets had five players with five or more kills. In total, Tech had 41 kills against just 14 attack errors, resulting in a solid .300 hit percentage. Meanwhile, Wake had 24 kills and 24 attack errors, resulting in the .000 mark.

Stawicka and junior setter Mary Ashley Tippins had five block assists each, Tippins had 28 assists, and junior libero Jordan McCullers notched 16 digs.

Tech faced a much greater challenge on Saturday night against the Duke Blue Devils as the teams battled for second place in the ACC standings.

The game served as Tech’s “Dig for the Cure” match, in which each dig recorded by the Jackets resulted in a donation to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Tech’s 76 total digs raised more than $1,500 for the Komen Foundation. Additionally, the Jackets wore pink jerseys in honor of the event; those jerseys are being auctioned off, and the proceeds will be donated as well.

As the first set began, Tech began to build an early lead as DeMichelis led the charge, picking up three early kills as the Jackets went up 8-5.

Duke fought back to tie the set, and the Blue Devils held a slight lead throughout the middle of the set.

Late in the set, Duke was ahead 22-18 when Tech took a timeout. The Jackets immediately took the first three points after the short break thanks to a kill from Mead, an ace from Hunter and a Duke error that concluded a long point.

The Blue Devils remained ahead though, and they ended up taking the set 25-23 as Duke’s Rachael Moss recorded her sixth and final kill of the opening set.

Tech came out strong to open the second set, taking advantage of Duke mistakes to win the first five points. The Jackets held onto their early lead, and midway through the set they were ahead 14-8.

The second half of the set was roughly even, but the Jackets managed to hold onto their lead. Two late DeMichelis kills, her fifth and sixth of the set, tied the match for the Jackets as they took the set 25-21.

Tech was strong from the start of the third set. DeMichelis and senior middle blocker Brittany Roderick keyed the offense early in the third set. Two Roderick hits caught the back line, and DeMichelis landed a pair of powerful spikes early on as solid ball control helped the Jackets build a lead. Tech went on a 14-4 run, forcing Duke to use both timeouts as the Jackets went ahead 16-8.

Duke closed the gap to three points as Tech made a handful of errors late in the set, but the lead was sufficient. Tech won the final three points, finishing with a Tippins ace to win the set 25-19 and come within one set of taking the match.

DeMichelis had three early kills as the Jackets got off to another fast start in the fourth set. The Jackets were strong throughout the first half of the set, playing well in all areas. Eventually they led 18-12 and appeared to be on the way to closing out the match.

Duke had other plans in mind, though. The Blue Devils took the next three points and eventually battled to a 19-19 tie; Tech pulled ahead 22-21, but Duke took the late lead and closed out the set to earn a 25-23 victory that sent the match to a deciding fifth set.

“We were in command of the fourth set, and we couldn’t finish it and put it away…I felt like our passing broke down, and in the end, we just couldn’t execute,” Johnson said.

Tech held an early lead once again in the final set, but Duke battled back to pull ahead and the Jackets could not rebound. With the score tied 7-7, Duke won four consecutive points, the last two of which came on calls that Johnson and the Jackets briefly argued. Ultimately Tech could not come back, and a Duke dump ended the set 15-11 and gave the Blue Devils the match.

“I’m disappointed in the loss, but we have a lot of season left and a lot to play for. We’re in a great position…we’ve just got to go out and take care of business,” Johnson said.