After seeing their hopes of a perfect season burnt by the Flames of Lee University last Monday in a tight five-game thriller, the fourth-ranked ranked volleyball team looked to bounce back in their home opener this weekend.
The fourth-ranked Eagles hosted Averett University (Va.), Berry College, Transylvania University (Ky.) and seventh-ranked University of St. Thomas (Minn.) in the Emory Classic this weekend, finishing the tournament a perfect 4-0. The squad’s record now stands at 8-1 on the year.
Head Coach Jenny McDowell was very happy with her team’s resolve and overall effort, particularly in her team’s challenging Friday night.
“[I was pleased with] how hard we fought Friday night. We never quit; we never gave up,” McDowell said. “I was really excited that our team never gave up on Friday. It was a great win for us.”
The Eagles were more excited than nervous about their first home game of the year.
“It was our first home match,” senior middle hitter and captain Alex Duhl said. “I think it was exciting, but we were able to work through it and win.”
The Classic began on Friday with a win for the Eagles when they defeated the Transylvania Pioneers three sets to one. The team opened the match with a sound first set victory (25-18) before falling 20-25 in the second set.
Despite the letdown, sophomore middle and outside hitter Kate Bowman helped lead her team’s comeback. She dominated the match with a team high 14 kills, and Duhl and her fellow senior captain and middle hitter Breanah Bourque each chipped in nine kills.
The Eagles won the next two sets 25-19 and 25-20 to claim the match in four sets.
In the second match of the evening, the Eagles clawed their way back to outlast the St. Thomas Tommies. Emory lost the first set 22-25, but came back to even the match by winning the second set 25-20.
Game three went constantly back and forth, but eventually the Tommies managed to close it out 25-22. With the team in danger of losing, Bourque and Duhl led the Eagles to capture the fourth set in dominant fashion with 25-15.
“I feel like Breanah Bourque and Alex Duhl, [the] two senior middle hitters, willed our team to win,” McDowell said. “They were unwilling to let our team lose. Having a couple of leaders on the team to pull us through was huge.”
With the additional, energized efforts from their captains, the Eagles went on to secure the fifth set 16-13, and the match ended with a kill by Bowman.
“Kate Bowman was sensational,” McDowell said. “She took about 60 swings, which is a lot of swings in one match. She never gave up.”
Bowman ended the match with a career-high 18 kills and a cool 18 digs. Freshman setter Sydney Miles continued her impressive campaign with a massive 49 assists, and freshman outside hitter Ashley Crawford registered a team-high 24 digs.
On Saturday, the Eagles picked up where they left off with their match against the Averett Cougars. McDowell decided to rest her first unit and looked to her reserves for the victory. The Eagles won the first two sets easily 25-13 and had little additional trouble in winning the third set 25-14.
Crawford once again led the Eagles in digs with 10, and sophomore outside hitter Leah Jacobs led all athletes with a match-high 11 kills.
In their last match of the Classic, the Eagles foiled a come-back attempt from the Berry Vikings to secure a perfect 4-0 outing in the tournament. After losing the first set 25-27, the Eagles won sets two and three (25-17, 25-16) and routing the Vikings in set four (25-12).
Bourque concluded her last Classic stunningly with a season-high 15 kills and a team-high four blocks. Bowman racked up 13 put-aways with 13 digs.
Bourque, Duhl and Bowman were selected to the Emory Classic All-Tournament Team, with Bourque grabbing MVP honors
Because of the challenging come-back situations the team faced in the Classic, the team members feel confident that this was a valuable learning experience.
“I learned that the team is willing to fight for anything and work real hard. Even though we’re young, we’re going to grow,” Duhl said. “We’re capable of anything and [are] going to go really far.”
The Eagles next play this weekend, flying to San Antonio, Texas to take part in the Trinity National Invitational Friday and Saturday.
â€” By Zonair Khan