GREENVILLE, N.C. - Down 2-1 in the match, the East Carolina volleyball team regrouped and rallied past UNC Wilmington, 3-2, on Tuesday night at Minges Coliseum in a non-conference contest. The Pirates rise to 8-7 overall while the Seahawks are now 9-8 in 2009. The home team kept two streaks alive with the win, as ECU has beaten UNCW in 13-straight meetings while also extending its midweek winning streak to 15, dating back to the 2004 season.
Seniors Melissa Zentner and Hannah Fenker were two major contributors to the triumph, as each set a new career high mark. Zentner put down 25 kills, smashing her previous best of 16 against UAB in 2008, while Fenker distributed 68 assists, topping the 59 she recorded against UNC Greensboro last season. Additionally, with 17 kills, senior Stephanie Turner moved into 10th on the program career ledger, now owning 862.
"Producing 68 assists is a lot for a setter, but the match did go five sets," Fenker said. "We received some great passing and stellar defense that allowed me to set some good balls to our outsides and middles."
Zentner got things going for the home side with two quick kills as part of a 3-0 match-opening run. The Pirates would stretch the lead to 6-1 before UNCW rallied to tie the frame at 10. East Carolina would then respond with a 4-1 run, putting itself up 14-11. That three-point cushion held most of the way through until a Rachel Caricato kill evened the scoreline at 20. After the Pirates built a 23-21 advantage, the Seahawks made it interesting by scoring two of the next three points, cutting the deficit to 24-23, but Turner ended the interval with a kill to put her team ahead 1-0.
East Carolina built leads of 6-0 and 8-2 to start the second set, but UNCW had the answer, eventually tying the frame at 10. After stalemates at points 16 through 21, the Seahawks established some breathing room at 23-21 and match the Pirates point-for-point to even the contest with a 25-23 victory.
As in the first two frames, the teams caught up with each other at 10-10. Holding a 16-14 lead on a kill by Lizzy Bruin, ECU could not hold off UNCW's 3-0 run and found itself down a point. Service errors began to plague the Pirate cause, as they committed four in the last 15 rallies, allowing the Seahawks to take a 25-23 win and the contest lead at 2-1.
UNCW jumped ahead by two points at 11-9 in the fourth interval, but four-straight points by East Carolina forced the visitors to take a timeout. The respite proved ineffective, as the Pirates scored on four consecutive rallies to build a 16-12 lead it would not relinquish. ECU out-scored the Seahawks 9-5 the rest of the way to cruise to a 25-17 margin of victory and force a deciding set for the second time this season.
"Halfway through the fourth set, we just decided to pick things up," Fenker stated. "There is only so much Coach [Pati] Rolf can do on the sidelines to get us going. We had to share in that responsibility. It had to be up to us to bear down and play the way we are capable of."
It was tense start to the fifth frame, as the squads matched each other all the way to 5-5. A kill by Turner and a UNCW attack error gave the Pirates their first two-point lead of the set, and they would keep that advantage at 8-6 as the teams traded benches. ECU then scored two-straight points to go up 10-6, and would allow the Seahawks to cut the deficit to two with a pair of kills. However, UNCW would not score again, as three kills and a block helped seal the comeback.
After hitting poorly in the first two sets, the Pirates responded with three consecutive .349 plus efforts the rest of the way to earn the .272-.214 edge and move their record to 7-0 when hitting .200 or better. ECU also notched season high marks of 74 kills and 76 digs, bettering totals set against Campbell last week.
Four players reached double-digit kills in Zentner (25), Turner (17), Britney Roper (13) and Kelly Derby (11). In addition to a career-best mark for Derby, she also hit .688 on the evening, committing no errors on 16 attempts. It is the highest single-game percentage in Conference USA this season.
Defensively, sophomore Amanda Lutzow also set a single-match personal high with 22 digs, besting the 15 she produced against N.C. State last season. Bruin set another career-best mark with 16 digs while Fenker completed her team-leading fourth double-double of the campaign. Her 68 assists also matched Rachel Lindelow of Tulane for the most by a conference setter in 2009.
The Pirates jump back into C-USA play this weekend, traveling to SMU and Tulsa for a pair of matches. The contest against the Mustangs is slated for an 8 p.m. start on Friday at Moody Coliseum. The contest will serve as East Carolina’s 100th as a member of the league, joining C-USA before the start of the 2001 season.