'Dogs Bite Anteaters in UC Irvine Tourney Finale, 3-1
Fresno State won the tourney team title, and Holly Franks and Marissa Brand were tabbed to the all-tourney squad.
Fresno State won the tourney team title, and Holly Franks and Marissa Brand were tabbed to the all-tourney squad.

Sept. 21, 2013

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By Geoff Thurner

IRVINE, Calif. - The Fresno State volleyball team (6-6) flexed its never-say-die attitude by pulling out a 3-1 win over UC Irvine (9-5) Saturday afternoon in the finale of the UC Irvine Tournament.

After dropping the first set, 26-24, the Bulldogs rallied to win the final three tightly-contested sets, 25-23, 26-24, 26-24, to wrap up the preseason in its fourth straight tournament in as many weeks.

After Saturday's win left the Bulldogs as one of three tournament teams with 2-1 marks, the Bulldogs were honored as tourney champions with their 8-4 weekend advantage in sets played over Irvine (7-6) and American (7-7).

"It was a fantastic feeling to end a turbulent preseason with a very good win against a very good team," Fresno State head coach Lauren Netherby-Sewell said. "We sided out pretty well, and our serving has gotten so much better this weekend and that was key. We had a good game plan to control their pin hitters and leave their middle hitters alone and let our floor defense try to control them. We won a lot of long rallies to come out on top and propel us into the conference with some confidence."

En route to Tournament MVP honors, redshirt senior and right side hitter Holly Franks topped the team with her season highs in kills (18) and points (21.5), and her 20 digs was a season high and her fifth double-double of the campaign.

"Teams keyed on Holly and she still found ways to be successful," Netherby-Sewell said. "She concentrated on making good swings and didn't try to always make the big play and let the match come to her. She carried us when we needed her to, and also did the little things to help the team."

Redshirt senior outside hitter Marissa Brand was also honored to the all-tourney squad after her 15 kills and 15 digs - her second-best and top marks of the season, respectively. The Cypress, Calif., native logged her second double-double of 2013 and 30th career-wise in her third start of the year.

Sophomore outside hitter Zana Bowens added 17 kills and a season-high 15 digs for her third double-double of '13, and her three aces was a match high and tied a career best. Freshman libero Maggie Eppright ended with 27 digs - 11 better than her previous best - and tied the team season high previously set by junior setter Christina Lee in a five-set match.

Lee racked up 51 assists - the team's high in a non-five set match - and added an ace and 17 digs for her fourth double-double of the year.

Junior middle blocker Maci Murdock tied a team season high in blocks (7) and added top team honors in hitting (.250, 8 kills) for the fourth match this season.

"I was really proud of Marissa this weekend," Netherby-Sewell said. "She just needed an opportunity to lead the team, and she really stepped up. Zana did a lot of good things - she still has some work to do on her attacking - but had a lot of great plays at key moments. Maggie should have been on the all-tourney team, too. Irvine didn't want to serve her, and she also is serving really tough and moving the ball around really well. Defensively, she made some unreal plays."

For the Anteaters, Marisa Bubica topped the team in kills (18) and hitting (.267), and other category leaders included Arden Davis (23 digs), Shannon Fleming (6 blocks, 1 ace) and Shannon Anderson (48 assists).

Team-wise, Fresno State sported edges in kills (63-56), assists (57-53), aces (7-1) and digs (96-85), and UCI owned advantages in hitting (.182-.157) and blocks (11-9).

In set 1, UC Irvine ran off four points early to take a 6-2 lead, but Fresno State answered with a three-point run to tie the match, 8-8, on an ace by Lee. The Bulldogs' biggest lead came at 16-14 after a kill by Murdock, and Murdock-Lee block. UCI forced Fresno State's first timeout after two straight kills put it back ahead, 19-17. Brand and Franks retied the match 21-21 with their fifth and seventh kills of the set. A Murdock kill gave Fresno State set point at 24-23, but Bubica landed three straight kills to end the period in the Anteaters' favor, 26-24.

In set 2, the `Dogs staked three straight points for its 6-3 and 12-6 leads, and the latter featured back-to-back point-blank digs by Eppright that led to a kill by Bowens in the corner and UCI timeout. The Bulldogs still owned an 18-14 lead when the Anteaters went on a 5-1 run to tie it, 19-19. A Murdock-Bowens block and Murdock kill gave FS a 22-20 lead, and two straight back-row kills by Bowen gave her six for the set and the team a 24-21 lead. After two points by UCI, Christina Lee won a joust with the Anteaters' middle Fleming to give the `Dogs the 25-23 advantage.

In set 3, neither team led by more than two points after UCI's 5-2 advantage. The `Dogs had a three-point spurt to go up, 9-7, after two of Brand's six kills in the set. The Anteaters bounced back with a four-point run, and then led slightly or tied till Fresno State's four-point run ended the set. Down 24-22, a Franks-Murdock block, Bowens kill and UCI attack error set the stage for Franks' first ace of the match at 26-24.

In set 4, play was back and forth early with the `Dogs first notable run a three-point burst that included a Franks kill and Franks-Lauren Albertson block to make it 11-8. Another pair of Murdock kills and Anteater attack error pushed the lead to 16-13, but UCI soon tied it, 18-18. A marathon back and forth point appeared to end on a long attempt by the `Eaters, but a Bulldog touch was called at the net and led to a FS timeout down, 20-19. Kills by Brand & Albertson were followed by a Bowens conversion after two diving passes to make it 22-20. UCI fought back to tie it 24-24 on a pair of kills from Allison Lee, but a Bowens kill and block by Murdock and Lee ended the match with a 26-24 decision.

Earlier in the tourney, the `Dogs staked their third, three-set win of the season vs. Xavier. Later Friday night, Fresno State played its fifth five-setter of 2013 and was edged by Patriot League preseason favorite American, 3-2.

Joining Franks and Brand on the all-tournament team were American's Krystina Lindskova and Julianna Crum, UC Irvine's Shelley Anderson and Aly Squires and Xavier's Aubrey Smith.

"We're making small improvements each week," Netherby-Sewell said. "Our serve and pass is almost there, and our block got a little better and slowed down they're big guns. We didn't get a lot of stuff blocks but slowed them down. We're also getting better at being poised when we needed key defensive points."

Looking ahead, the `Dogs open MW conference play next weekend at home with 7 p.m. matches vs. Utah State (Thu., 9/26) and Boise State (Sat., 9/28).

Catch the Wave: Fans wearing pink to Thursday's `Breast Cancer Awareness Night' 7 p.m. match vs. Utah State (9/26) will get free admission. Saturday's 7 p.m. match vs. Boise State (9/28) is `Club Sports Night' with all campus club sports being honored.



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