Rallying in Radford: After losing the first game in Radford, the Cougs win the next two

From staff reports

Despite an opening match loss to Radford, the WSU volleyball team rallied back throughout the weekend to sweep two consecutive matches and come away from the Radford Highlander Invitational with a 2-1 record to start the 2015 season.

Highlanders 3, Cougars 1

Junior outside hitter Kyra Holt led the team with 21 kills, but it wasn’t enough as WSU fell to Radford three sets to one in their season-opening match.

In the fourth and deciding set, both teams were tied at 7 before Radford went on a 9-2 run. WSU eventually scored five consecutive points with their backs against the wall late to cut the deficit to 24-22, but Radford senior Savanna Burton was able to tap a touch kill just out of senior libero Kate Sommer’s reach to end the match.

Sommer finished with 28 digs, becoming just the second Cougar to record at least 1500 digs in a career at 1,503. Junior setter Haley MacDonald also had 43 assists.

The Highlanders took the first set, 25-19, after six lead changes and 12 ties. WSU rallied to tie the match at one set apiece with three consecutive points to win the second, 26-24. Junior outside hitter Hailey Bethune led the team with eight kills, and Holt added seven.

In the third, WSU got a point to go up 23-22 after Radford had rallied to tie it at 22. However, the Cougars lost four of the next five points and Radford took the third set, 26-24.

“This match gave us a lot of things to work on,” Head Coach Jen Greeny said in a press release. “We are still trying to get our young middles into the groove. There were some bright points, too, from Hailey Bethune and Kyra Holt doing their jobs pretty well. There were far too many unforced errors, and we definitely need to clean that up.”

Three WSU freshmen in particular stood out in their debuts. Defensive specialist Olivia Coale entered the match near the beginning of the second set and immediately served up an ace. She finished the match with four. Middle blocker Ella Lajos came in during the fourth set and emphatically began her Cougar career with a kill, which tied the set at six. Middle blocker Claire Martin led the team with five blocks.

Cougars 3, Phoenix 0

Sommer had 17 digs, but it was freshman outside hitter McKenna Woodford who led WSU past Elon.

After the Phoenix overcame two match points to tie the third set at 24, Greeny called a timeout. A tip by Woodford (her 12th kill of the match) put WSU up 25-24, and the Cougars went on to win 26-24 to grab their first win of the season in straight sets. Holt recorded her 900th career kill during the third set and finished with 14 for the match.

In the first ever volleyball match between these two schools, WSU started quickly in the first set, getting out to a 15-9 lead. Woodford and Holt each had 3 kills. A huge kill from the back row by junior defensive specialist Tani Stephens gave WSU a 23-16 lead. The Cougars won the first set 25-18 as Woodford finished with 5 kills on 10 attack attempts for a .500 hitting percentage.

In the second set, Coale served her second ace of the match and sixth of the day. MacDonald also had an ace to give her team a 23-17 lead. She finished with a career-high four aces for the match and had 39 assists. WSU won the second set 25-17 while hitting .239. Holt led the Cougars with seven kills.

“Offensively we picked it up quite a bit. McKenna Woodford definitely stepped up and that is what we have been seeing out of her at practice. Really proud of the way she responded and came out firing,” Greeny said. “We talked to her about relaxing and not pressing too hard, but do what she’s used to doing. She did that and did a great job tonight.”

Cougars 3, Buccaneers 0

Holt was the star once again in the second WSU sweep of the weekend. With 17 kills and three aces, she led the Cougars to a quick three-sets-to-none victory.

Early in the third, it didn’t look like WSU would be able to sweep the match. East Tennessee State took a brief 5-2 lead, but three aces by Stephens highlighted a 10-0 run and the Cougars went up 12-5. The Buccaneers got as close as 22-20, but WSU held on for a 25-21 victory and the match win.

In the first set, Holt served up an ace for a quick 3-0 lead, and the Cougars scored the first seven points. ETSU came all the way back to tie it at 16 before WSU went on a 9-2 run to close out the first set, 25-18. Holt had eight kills and a .500 hitting percentage, and Woodford also added six kills. She finished the match with 14.

WSU won the second set, 25-22, led by Holt with four kills and Woodford with another three.

“I’m happy with this victory today. It wasn’t pretty but we’ll take it,” Greeny said. “A lot of bright spots; our hitters responded pretty well (at this tournament) after that rough start against Radford. We need to get home and make some corrections quickly and be ready to play next weekend.”

The Cougars will compete in the Idaho Invitational next weekend, and will face off against UC Irvine at 4:40 p.m. on Friday, Seattle University at 10 a.m. on Saturday, and the University of Idaho at 7 p.m. on Saturday. All games will be played in Moscow, Idaho.

Reporting Spencer Anderson