Sept. 20, 2013
By Geoff Thurner
IRVINE, Calif. - The Fresno State University volleyball team (5-6) continued its challenging early season slate with a hard-fought battle vs. American (11-1) to split first-day action in the UC Irvine Tournament Friday evening.
In their fifth, five-set match of the year, the `Dogs won the first and third sets by 25-18 scores, but the preseason Patriot League favorite took the second (25-16), fourth (25-19) and fifth sets (15-10).
In its victorious sets, the Fresno State offense clicked to the tune of.355 and .353 hitting marks, while American held the upper hand in the other three sets (2nd .294, 3rd .257, 5th .444).
"Tonight was a missed opportunity," Fresno State head coach Lauren Netherby-Sewell said. "American is a good team and knows how to win, but our lack of consistency proved the difference. I felt our serving was better, but our passing was up and down, and when it wasn't effective it effected our ability to set our middles and get them going."
Making her second start of the year, the Cypress, Calif., native Brand also logged her first double-double of 2013 and 29th career-wise with her 11 digs, and sophomore outside hitter Zana Bowens just missed similar honors (9 kills, 11 digs, 1 ace).
"I knew I needed to step up and play a key role," Brand said, "and it was exciting to get a lot of swings. Team-wise we served really well part of the match, and that helped us take their quick sets in the middle away. Unfortunately we didn't stay that aggressive, and let them get back in rhythm offensively."
Junior setter Christina Lee posted her second highest assist total of the season (48), and led the team in aces (2) for the first time in '13 to tie her season high. Freshman libero Maggie Eppright set a new season best in digs (16) to top the team for the fourth time in the last six matches, and added an ace.
Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Molly Pearson made her first start of the season, and her six blocks topped the team and was one shy of the team season high. Franks added four blocks to end one shy of her season high, and her 19 points was one off her 2013 best.
"Everyone has been working hard to help the team, so it was exciting to get a chance to start and do my part today," Pearson said. "Christina has been setting so well, and our digging and passing was great and helped keep us in sync. I've really focused on my serving the past few weeks, because that's a huge part of getting us going offensively and defensively."
For the Eagles, Juliana Crum topped the returning Patriot League runner-up in kills (20), hitting (.400), digs (14) and points (22), and other leaders included Monika Smidova (36 assists), Morgan Hendrix (6 blocks), Bree Scarbrough (1 ace) and Kelly McCaddin ( 1 ace).
Team-wise, Fresno State sported edges in aces (6-3), assists (51-50) and aces (92-80), and American owned advantages in hitting (.225-.174) and blocks (9-6).
In set 1, the teams tied six times through 12-12, when the `Dogs went on a four-point run behind Franks' serving to go up, 16-12. After a three-point Eagle reply, a 7-1 Fresno State response was served by Eppright and Lee and featured two of Brand's six kills in the set and a block by Franks and Pearson. Moments later, Franks' fourth kill of the set clinched the period, 25-18.
In set 2, American controlled momentum the first half and edged out to a 17-9 lead. Scoring stayed even the rest of the way with AU holding an 8-7 kill edge for the remainder as Franks landed a late ace and had three kills in the set.
In set 3, a pair of blocks by Pearson helped Fresno State jump out to a 5-1 lead, and another 5-1 run pushed the Bulldogs' lead to 13-5, thanks to one of Murdock's four kills in the set. The teams then traded points until a pair of Brand's kills made it, 23-15, and she later converted another overpass for her seventh kill of the set at 24-16. Three serves later, Franks and Pearson Blocks ended the set, 25-18, on a block assist on the right pin - the team's third of the stanza (and all including Pearson).
In set 4, Pearson's first ace of the season made it 5-2, but a three-point answer started the first of four ties through 11-11. The Eagles went on an 8-1 run to force both of Fresno State's timeouts on four kills and an ace to go up 19-12. After AU pushed its lead to 21-14, a 4-1 `Dog response included two Brand kills and forced an Eagle timeout. However, American recovered with a 3-1 final stretch to win, 25-19.
In set 5, AU pushed out to a 3-1 lead, but a four-point `Dog answer was capped by a Lee service ace to put FS up, 5-3, and led to an American timeout. On the next play, an end-line reversed call converted a subsequent Eagle attack error at the left pin (into a kill off the block) and initiated a 4-1 Eagle run that was ended by a Franks kill down the line at 7-7. Another 3-0 AU spurt made it 10-7 and forced another Fresno State timeout, but Bowens bounced back with two straight kills to pull Fresno State within, 10-9. The Eagles, however, closed the match on a 5-1 stretch that was ended by Crum's final two kills in the 15-10 finale.
"Marissa's play was a big positive," Netherby-Sewell said. "We needed her to step up, and she took advantage of the opportunity like a good leader and fifth-year senior should. Molly has worked really hard in practice, and earned her start. She's been serving really tough, and also did a lot of good things defensively and offensively today. This tournament has been a good place to test our depth and help get us ready for conference play."
Earlier Friday afternoon, the `Dogs staked their third three-set win of the season with their 25-22, 25-23, 25-13 victory over Xavier (7-4).
Looking ahead, the `Dogs cap tourney action against host UC Irvine (9-3) Saturday at 2 p.m. The Anteaters beat Xavier, 3-2, and American, 3-1, in other matches Friday.
For all the remaining matches, fans can watch a live videostream online at bit.ly/PrLhXj and follow live stats at http://bit.ly/ohsonq .
More tournament information is available at the www.ucirvinesports.com website.
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