Volleyball: Dukes Hold Off Charlotte In Thriller
Published: Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Updated: Thursday, September 29, 2011 00:09
It took two more sets than their coach would have hoped for, but the women's volleyball team pulled out a 3-2 victory Sunday afternoon in the A.J. Palumbo Center.
The favored Dukes (12-4, 2-0) stumbled in sets one and four and missed opportunities to shut down their opponent early, leading to a nail biter at the end that was more than the Dukes may have anticipated.
"[Close games] are a little nerve-racking at times, but they're fun if you win," senior outside hitter Liz Homan said.
Coach Steve Opperman wasn't as thrilled with his team's early mistakes and overall play, including the .160 team hitting percentage that was 91 percentage points lower than the team average entering the match.
"Charlotte played well, and we can't take anything away from them, but if you saw our match Friday night to today, it's just night and day the way that we know how to play and can play," Opperman said.
Charlotte (6-8, 0-2) entered the match on a three-game losing streak but didn't show any weakness as they jumped out to claim the first set 25-22. Down 22-21, Charlotte won the final four points, including a weak shot that revealed Duquesne's lack of focus and communication as it fell between three Dukes and set up game point.
Homan thought the team might have been too relaxed.
"We were trying to let the other team make mistakes, but they were doing what they needed to be doing to put the ball down," Homan said. "I think we just weren't being aggressive. We were making unaggressive errors."
In response, the Dukes proved their grit in an exhilarating but grueling second set, which featured a 13-0 Duquesne rally after being down 8-20.
"That's why we have to train harder, physically and mentally, to be prepared for something like that," said sophomore outside hitter Allison Foschia, who had 14 kills in the match.
But the 13-point rally didn't end the set, and the Dukes' previous mistakes returned. It took 15 more points in the set before the women evened the set points at 1-1 with a 29-27 win. Foschia and Homan agreed that the rally was mentally and physically challenging, and they might have avoided it with more focused play earlier.
"Sometimes we get too relaxed, and we shouldn't be doing that," Foschia said.
Foschia took control in the third set, which featured two rallies of five straight points from Duquesne. Down 20-21, the Dukes won the last five points, three on Foschia kills and two on Charlotte errors.
The fourth set was almost a carbon copy of the first, with Charlotte's 6-foot-5 middle back hitter Savannah Gaster wreaking havoc at the net. Gaster finished the day with four solo blocks and three assists. The 49ers totaled 16 blocks, and Opperman thought it changed the Dukes' approach.
"Our kids kind of let that intimidate them a little bit, and they were changing the way they were swinging, instead of going up and banging the ball," Opperman said.
Homan agreed that the gigantic opponent at the net changed their style of play, but it also allowed the Dukes to adjust scoring chances and find a weakness. Homan ran a flare, where she would move from the inside to the outside edge of the court, and, taking a set from Taylor Jones, spike it hard across court. The shot worked often, and usually ended two or three point rallies from the 49ers. Opperman noticed how Homan, who tallied 18 kills with a .390 hitting percentage, took advantage of the shot and the moment.
"She's confident in herself. It's conference time, and she knows it's her time to step up, and she was doing that on the floor for us," Opperman said.
The 49ers took the fourth set 25-22 and entered the final set with momentum. But nearly two hours after the match's start, the Dukes finally had all the pieces clicking. Using Homan's flare, Jones' dump at the net, and a couple Foschia blocks and kills at the net, the Dukes claimed the fifth 15-13.
Despite their coach's frustrations, a win is a win to the Dukes.
"It was just a crazy match in general. It was a lot of fun. It was very up and down, but I'm really proud of how we played," Foschia said.
The Dukes continue conference play with four road matches before returning Oct. 14 to face La Salle at the Palumbo Center.