The ETSU volleyball team closed out non-conference play with a bang, as the Buccaneers defeated Tennessee, 3-1 (31-29, 25-21, 21-25, 27-25), snapping a 19-match losing streak to the Lady Vols on Saturday afternoon inside Thompson-Boling Arena.
The last time the Blue and Gold defeated Tennessee came over 34 years ago, Nov. 10, 1978. Head coach Lindsey Devine is the only member of the 2013 roster who was alive when the result occurred. The win over the Lady Vols was historic in more ways than one as it marked coach Devine’s 171st career victory, tying her with Kelly Andrews for the most wins in program history.
A pair of Buccaneers recorded double-doubles, while ETSU set season highs in digs (77) and assists (69) in the four-set win. Senior Megan Devine tallied her sixth double-double of the year after finishing with a career-high 27 kills and 16 digs, while junior Ivey Rice posted 17 kills and 18 digs for her second straight double-double performance. Fellow junior Jamie Rutledge directed the offense as she accounted for 62 assists and eight digs, and junior libero Katie Muey added a match-high 20 digs to go with six assists.
For the match, the Blue and Gold out-dug Tennessee – who entered the weekend as the nation leader in digs per set – 77 to 71. The Bucs also held a plus-11 margin in kills, 72 to 61, and out-hit the Lady Vols, .273 to .253. Devine led the way with a .404 attack percentage and junior Bethany Gesell was solid as she hit .393, added five digs and registered two of ETSU’s four service aces. Meredith Hardy provided the other two aces and also recorded five blocks, marking her 74 consecutive match with at least one block.
ETSU ended the tournament with consecutive wins and improved to 6-6 on the year, while Tennessee dropped to 7-3.
Following the match, coach Devine was proud of the way her team competed and left everything on the court.
“We keep preaching to the team, if they battle and compete at the highest level then good results will happen. This is exactly what took place today,” coach Devine said. “I am proud for what they did for ETSU and the team believed they could win this match. Over the past couple years, we have been on the cusp of defeating a team like Tennessee, and today the team played with a competitive attitude and had fun on the court. We had nothing to lose and everything to gain, and we hope to use this win to build momentum as conference play begins next week.
“When we have more people involved in our offense we are able to put the opposition on their heels, and I thought we did a solid job doing this over our last two matches. Ivey and Megan were phenomenal on the outside and Jaime did an outstanding job giving good looks to our players, which opened up options for Bethany. We won a lot of long rallies, because we kept being aggressive and worked hard to be in the right positions throughout the match.”
Fans were treated to extra play in the opening set as both teams battled back-and-forth, but after 13 ties and seven lead changes, ETSU prevailed for the 31-29 victory. The Lady Vols led by as many as six midway through the frame, but the Bucs weathered the storm and used a 12-5 run to regain a 22-21 advantage, forcing Tennessee to burn a timeout following back-to-back kills by Rice.
The teams weren’t done trading leads as they combined for four more changes in the stretch run of the set, but with the Lady Vols clinging to a one-point lead (29-28), the Bucs stepped up to win the final three points to pull out the win. Devine, who hit .450, had 10 of ETSU’s 21 kills in the opener, while the Blue and Gold used strong serving to capture the two-point win. The Bucs finished with three service aces, two by Hardy and one from Gesell, compared to zero from Tennessee.
After a tightly contested first set, ETSU controlled the majority of the second as the Bucs used a 16-5 run to build a 10-point advantage en route to posting a 25-21 victory. With the Lady Vols winning two of the first three points of the frame, the Blue and Gold mounted their surge to break open a 17-7 lead when Rutledge continued balancing the floor by finding sophomore Khadijah Wiley for one of her five kills in the match. Tennessee threw one last punch at the Bucs as the Lady Vols clipped their deficit to one, 22-21, but again the Bucs won the final three scores to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the match. Five different ETSU players posted two or more kills in the frame, while the Bucs held the Lady Vols to a .091 hitting percentage.
Tennessee never trailed in the third set and picked up the four-point win, 25-21, but the Blue and Gold responded by winning the first seven points of the fourth set to regain momentum. With the Lady Vols having to call a timeout early in the fourth, ETSU continued holding its seven-point advantage when kills by Devine and Rice put the Bucs ahead, 20-13. However, the Lady Vols didn’t back down and eventually took a 24-23 lead, but ETSU fought off Tennessee serving for set point, twice. The Bucs stayed focused and tied things up at 24 and 25, before Devine’s kill ignited the winning run. After the reigning Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year registered her 27th kill of the match, she and Wiley put the Blue and Gold up for good with a block assist. With Rutledge serving for the match, Gesell and Wiley blocked Whitney Heeres at the net to finish off the Lady Vols. Devine and Rice each totaled six kills in the fourth set, while the Bucs’ back line was superb as they won the battle in digs, 19 to 11.
“Teams who show maturity down the stretch are the ones that end up being successful as they are able to execute under pressure situations,” Devine said. “It was really encouraging to see us pull together and stay focused. We knew no matter how the set went, as long as we kept focused and played aggressive, we were going to win.”
The Lady Vols were led by Jamie Lea’s 24-kill effort, while Ellen Mullins – the NCAA leader in digs per set – finished below her average with 18.
The Bucs now turn their attention to A-Sun play, which begins Friday night at Mercer.
“We hope this win builds confidence in our team as we approach conference play next week,” said Devine, whose club won the 2012 A-Sun Tournament Championship. “This win is fulfilling, because it shows all the hard work is paying off.”