The Buccaneers find themselves in familiar territory this November, as this is their fourth SoCon Tournament appearance in a row. ETSU ended the season ranked No. 2 in the conference, giving them favorable tournament match ups. The first match up comes against the Western Carolina Catamounts this Friday.

ETSU and Western Carolina are well acquainted after meeting up twice in the regular season. The first of these games came early in the season back in September. It was the home opener for the Bucs, and they came out strong and ready to show out for their home crowd. The assist totals were through the roof for the Bucs, and the offensive onslaught led by senior Rylee Milhorn (Kingsport, Tenn.) and sophomore Leah Clayton (Danville, VA.), who totaled 96 attacks and 41 kills between them, was too much for the Catamounts, who lost 3-1.

On Oct. 22, the tables were turned, and ETSU met up with the Catamounts in their home turf. The Bucs were coming off a six game win streak, part of which came on their longest road game stint of the season. On the other side of the net, the Catamounts had just taken a blowout loss at the hands of the Chattanooga Mocs.

On the stat sheet, this game looks similar to the first meeting between these two teams. ETSU had another strong offensive night, however, this effort did not translate to the score, as the Bucs lost 3-2.

With the opening match of the SoCon Tournament looming, the Bucs will have to examine that loss and how it differed from earlier in the season.

As they say, the devil is in the details. The most obvious detail: the Catamounts manage the lead well.

The energy they played with during their home game in October led to starting sets off strong and building leads, leads that they were hard pressed to give up. The Bucs put up an impressive offensive effort, but they were working from behind more often than not.

The other key point of focus comes in the form of Western Carolina’s senior setter, Jo-Leigh VerVelde. Like ETSU’s own setter, Alyssa Kvarta (Crown Point, Ind.), much of the offense runs through her. However, Western Carolina is utilizing VerVelde at a much higher rate.

During ETSU’s Sept. 19, victory, they had a total of 67 assists, 37 of which came from Kvarta. On the flip side, Western Carolina totaled 52, and VerVelde was responsible for 49 of those. In ETSU’s loss in October, the Bucs racked up 65 assists, with no one player getting over 30. The Catamounts had 62, and 53 came from VerVelde.

Although they are coming in at the No. 2 seed, ETSU will have it’s hands full against the Western Carolina Catamounts. But with the neutral court in Cullowhee, North Carolina, this should benefit the Bucs as they finished 8-4 in away games, compared to the Catamounts who only won 4 of their 12 games away from home.

If the Bucs secure the win on Friday night, they look to play either Chattanooga or UNC-Greensboro. The Bucs beat Chattanooga twice in the regular season, and split the two games against UNC-Greensboro. It should be an exciting end to the season.