HOUSTON, Texas - The Fresno State volleyball team (0-1) opened its 51st season Friday night by showcasing several new faces vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (1-0) in the first match of the Adidas Rice Invitational.
The Ragin' Cajuns took the first two sets, 25-18, 25-20, while the `Dogs bounced back to dominate the third set, 25-18. ULL rebounded with a 25-21 fourth-set victory to hand seventh-year head coach Lauren Netherby-Sewell only her second season season-opening loss by a 3-1 margin.
"The message today is that we need patience," Netherby-Sewell said. "We played a very experienced team and that gave them a leg up on us. We did OK, but we have lots of room to grow, and our team will evolve every weekend. We had five newcomers start or play a lot today, and they will only get better."
In the final team comparisons, the `Dogs held edges in digs (55-52), blocks (8-7) and aces (4-2), and the Cajuns owned slim advantages in kills (52-50), hitting (.201-.165) and fewest service errors (5-9).
Offensively, a pair of freshmen - Carly Scarbrough (12 kills) and Haylee Roberts (8 kills, team-high .294 hitting mark) - helped the `Dogs begin the process of replacing a pair of graduated All-MW outside hitters.
In her first start in nearly two years, senior outside hitter Jaimee-Lee Morrow added seven kills, and her career-best three aces was a team high - all of which came in the third set.
In the middle, senior middle blocker Maci Murdock added 11 kills, hit .261, and paced the team in blocks (5).
The `Dogs rotated both of their setters as Jovanovic logged 36 assists and sophomore Brooke Legaux posted seven assists.
"We got to see a lot of different combinations today," Netherby-Sewell said, "and that will help us get better each match. Maggie passed well today and stabilized us in serve receive. Haylee has had no practice the last two weeks and was still arguably our best attacker. Zana (Bowens) came in off limited practice, too, and did well in the front row."
For ULL, three players posted double-digit kill totals - Kaylee Nemeth (13, .414), Stacey Reilly (12, .286) and Chanelle Gardner (11, .160).
Other Cajun category leaders included Nemeth (15.5 points, 3 blocks), Mossakowski (14 digs), Hole (47 assists), Katey Kyle (1 ace) and Reilly (1 ace).
In the first set, the `Dogs faced a 14-3 deficit early, but used four kills by Murdock to go on an 11-6 run and pull within 20-14. However, ULL used a block, and kills by Hole and Lockhart to win, 25-18, and finish with a .306 hitting mark for the set.
In the second set, Fresno State held a 6-5 edge before Louisiana-Lafayette used a 14-3 run that included four kills by Nemeth to go up, 19-9. Fresno State responded with an 11-4 stretch that was aided by three Cajun attack errors and two Bulldog blocks that tightened the score to 23-20. However, Nemeth added a pair of kills to cinch the 25-20 victory.
Serving carried the `Dogs to a comfortable win in the third set that included all four of the team's aces - including three by Morrow in a six-serve span that helped the `Dogs jump out to an 11-2 lead. Roberts added three kills in the 25-18 decision that saw the `Dogs own a .172-.030 hitting advantage.
In the fourth set, ULL forged ahead 13-5 early, but Fresno State drew within 17-13 after three straight ULL errors and two of Bowens' four kills in the set. Scoring was fairly even the remainder except for a three-point Bulldog spurt that prevented match point before ULL pulled out the set, 25-21.
With Friday's outcome, the `Dogs are now 5-2 in season openers under Netherby-Sewell who owns the third-longest tenure in school history. In her prior seasons, the `Dogs beat Rice (3-2, 2013), UTEP (3-1, 2012), UC Riverside (3-0, 2010) and CSU Bakersfield (3-0, 2009; 3-2, 2008), and lost to Cal Poly (3-2, 2011).
In other tourney action Friday night, host Rice (1-0) beat UC Davis (0-1) by a 3-0 count.
Looking ahead, the `Dogs return to action on Saturday, Aug. 30 for final-day tourney action vs. UC Davis and Rice at 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. PT, respectively.
Live stats for both tilts, and an online video broadcast for the Rice match will be available via the www.RiceOwls.com website.
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