MEMPHIS, Tenn. – In the first round of the Conference USA Championship held in the Elma Roane Fieldhouse, the East Carolina volleyball team was defeated by No. 5 seed Tulsa 3-1 (18-25, 25-22, 25-17, 25-23). The Pirates end their season with a 13-19 overall record while the Golden Hurricane improves to 22-10 and advances to play No. 4 seed Houston tomorrow afternoon in the quarterfinals, beginning at 3 p.m.
The first set began well for the Pirates. After a 2-2 tie, ECU won six of the next eight points to take an 8-4 lead. The team then doubled Tulsa’s score at 12-6 before the Golden Hurricane rallied to make the ECU lead just two at 13-11. The Pirates had a response to the Tulsa surge, however, and regained their six point advantage at 19-13. East Carolina then took its biggest lead of the set at 21-14 before the teams traded points the rest of the way with ECU winning the opener 25-18. Junior outside hitter Melissa Zentner led the way for the Pirates in the set, collecting five kills. Defensive specialist Trish Monroe led the defense with six digs while junior middle hitter Bobbie Jo Stall led the blocking with four, including one solo stuff.
Again in the second round, East Carolina got off to a good start by taking a 4-2 advantage. Tulsa cut the lead down to one at 5-4 before knotting the score at six points each. The Pirates won five of the next seven points and regained the lead at 11-8, only to see the Golden Hurricane run off five straight points and go ahead 13-11. ECU fought back to deadlock the score at 14 and trailed by just one at 18-17, but then Tulsa won the next five points to take a seemingly insurmountable 23-17 lead. The Pirates managed to narrow the Golden Hurricane advantage down to two twice, at 23-21 and 24-22, but could get no closer in falling 25-22. In the set junior right side hitter Stephanie Turner pounded down six kills while sophomore middle blocker Lizzy Bruin and Stall each finished with three. Defensively, junior setter Hannah Fenker and Monroe dug out four balls, while Stall continued her blocking run with three more.
Action to begin the third set also favored the Pirates as they held 3-1 advantage before Tulsa forced a 4-4 tie. The score remained knotted at points five and six, after which the Golden Hurricane won seven of the next eight points to gain a 13-7 lead. Tulsa still held its six point lead at 15-9 before ECU rallied, winning four straight points to trail by just two at 15-13.The Pirates also trailed by two at 18-16 before the Golden Hurricane made its final run, winning five straight points to take a 23-16 advantage and winning the set 25-17. Bruin, Zentner and redshirt freshman outside hitter Britney Roper all hammered down two kills each in the third frame.
East Carolina held an early 4-2 lead in the fourth set before Tulsa came back and tied the score at 5-5. The Golden Hurricane then won the next four points to establish a 9-5 lead. Trailing 12-7, the Pirates won three points in a row to trail only 12-10. ECU then managed the slice the Golden Hurricane lead down to just one at 13-12. The teams traded points before an 18-18 tie resulted. Tulsa then took a 21-19 lead but the Pirates deadlocked the score again, this time at 21 points each. Tulsa won back-to-back points to grab a 23-21 advantage but ECU kills from Turner and Zentner made the score 23 all. The Golden Hurricane gained the final two points of the contest, however, and the Pirates fell 25-23.
For the match, Turner and Zentner led the way on offense, finishing with 12 kills each. Bruin pounded down nine and Roper eight. Monroe picked up a team-high 15 digs while Fenker collected 10 digs to go along with 47 assists, her team-high sixth double-double of the season. Stall proved to be a blocking machine in the contest, tallying 10 and becoming the first ECU player to reach 10 blocks in a match since Mignon Dubenion had 10 against SMU on Sept. 23, 2007.
Looking into the future, the Pirates return all six starters next season.
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