GREENVILLE, N.C. (ECU) – Powered by a career-high 18-kill performance out of sophomore outside hitter Sydney Kleinman, ECU capped off a phenomenal weekend of American Athletic Conference play Sunday afternoon with a 3-1 (25-21, 16-25, 25-23, 25-18) victory over perennial league power SMU inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.
The Pirates picked up their first win over the Mustangs since 2008 and the first since joining the American Conference.
“We have been knocking on the door against SMU the last couple of years,” head coach Julie Torbett said. “We lost in five sets against them last year in heartbreaking fashion but our home court advantage gave us that edge today. We were confident entering this match after our performance against Houston back on Friday so we were playing really loose. Serving doesn’t really show up on the stat sheet, but the way we served took them completely out of the match, especially in the fourth set.
ECU was nothing short of spectacular on the offensive end, recording 55 kills in 125 attempts with just 14 errors – ending up with a .328 hitting percentage. SMU was pretty efficient as well, matching the Pirates with 55 kills but committed 20 errors for a .267 mark. The Mustangs finished with one more dig (49-48) while ECU racked up six blocks to SMU’s 4.5.
In addition to her 18 kills, Kleinman turned in a .394 hitting percentage as well as eight digs, two aces and a block. Sophomore outside hitter Bri Wood also reached double figures with 13 kills while adding eight digs, three blocks, two aces and a .344 hitting mark. Junior defensive specialist Maggie Hallow collected 14 digs in the back row. Additionally, sophomore setter Shelby Martin enjoyed a nice match with 46 assists, six kills and three digs. Brittany Adams paced the Mustangs with 15 kills while Hannah Jacobs was close behind with 13 of her own. Montana Watts led all players in the contest with 18 digs.
“You always want to bring out the best in each of your players,” Torbett stated. "I feel that sometimes I see more in them that they see in themselves so I have tried to be positive and encouraging this season. Sydney Kleinman is a Big Ten caliber player who saw the court at Minnesota last year. That young woman can lead our team into uncharted waters and I am so proud of her for having a breakout performance today.”
The Pirates were slow to find their footing at the outset as SMU rung up a 5-0 cushion on the serving of Kendall Patterson. ECU began to work itself back into the set, eventually tying the score at 10 after a Martin kill. The Pirates called a timeout later in the proceedings trailing 16-14, but scored two in a row to forge a tie. Jacobs put the Mustangs up 20-18 before ECU dug down and put together a 4-0 run to pull ahead 22-20. A service error drew SMU within one, but kills by Kleinman and junior middle blocker Toya Osuegbu allowed the Pirates to reach set point and an attacking error by Adams then sealed the frame for the home side.
The second stanza was close for the majority of the early portion before the Mustangs went up 14-10 following an ECU attacking error. The Pirates were not able to rally as SMU extended the edge to 22-13 before the teams traded the final six points to end the set.
It was a point-for-point battle in the third, but the Mustangs broke a 13-13 deadlock with two kills by Lexi Nordmann to force ECU into a timeout. An Adams attacking error capped a 7-5 Pirate run that tied the score at 20 and prompted a SMU timeout. Out of the break, Eva Linden put the ball down to give the Mustangs a one-point edge. However, kills by Wood and freshman middle blocker S’mara Riley, as well as a poor set by Lily Heim, afforded ECU a 23-21 lead. Another kill from Riley had the Pirates at set point and in front 24-22, but Nordmann saved her team with a kill. Kleinman finished the job on the next rally, tooling the SMU block beautifully to clinch the set for ECU.
Kills from Riley and Kleinman allowed the Pirates to grab an early 10-8 cushion in the fourth, sending the Mustangs scrambling for their first timeout. ECU seized on the momentum and unleashed a stretch of tough serves that put SMU out of system and the Pirates stretched their lead to 16-10. The Mustangs burned their final timeout at that point but it did not matter, as they were unable to get close than four points the rest of the way. Freshman defensive specialist Alden Willis finished SMU off with an ace, cementing the victory for the Purple and Gold.
ECU embarks on a four-match road swing Friday, Oct. 5, when it travels north to Storrs for an AAC contest at the University of Connecticut.