Sept. 26, 2013
By Geoff Thurner
FRESNO, Calif. - The Fresno State volleyball team (7-6, 1-0) kicked off the Mountain West slate with a thrilling 3-1 win over Utah State (8-5, 2-1) Friday night at the Save Mart Center.
The `Dogs went past regulation in all three of its set wins in the 28-16, 19-25, 26-24, 26-24 victory and handed the Aggies their first loss in MW play.
Defensively, the `Dogs celebrated a team season high in blocks (18) as three players - sophomore middle blocker Molly Pearson, senior right side hitter Holly Franks and junior middle blocker Maci Murdock claimed the team's top individual totals of the season (9 / 8 / 7).
"I haven't seen us block that well ever, so that was great," Fresno State Head Coach Lauren Netherby-Sewell said. "We're also digging really well, too. We have multiple defenders (playing well in the back row) and that's certainly a strength, too. Utah State was picked to finish ahead of us in the preseason, so to beat them in four in a tough match is a great start to the conference season."
Franks added a season high in kills (20) and points (24) to lead the team in each category for the third time, and her eight digs left her just shy of a sixth double-double this year.
Two other `Dogs - senior outside hitters and former all-league picks Wild (16 kills, 14 digs) and Brand (12 digs, 19 digs) - added their fourth and third double-doubles, respectively, of the season.
Keying the offense in the middle, Murdock paced the team in hitting (.333, 11 kills) for the fifth time in 2013 and scored her fourth +.300 total and fifth double-digit kill figure of the campaign.
Freshman libero Maggie Eppright set a new Mountain West season high for digs for a non-five-set match (28), and bettered her former mark from the last contest at UC Irvine by one. The San Luis Obispo, Calif., native has paced the team in the category in six matches, including five as a starter the last four weekends.
Junior setter Christina Lee ended with 50 assists - her third +50 tally of 2013 and second in a non-five-set match. Her 13 digs also cemented her fifth double-double the last seven contests.
"Maci struggled at the beginning," Netherby-Sewell said, "and then decided to turn it on and was a huge boost. Molly is doing some nice things for us, and she's serving really tough and blocking well, too. Christina did well at mixing it up to get our middle's going. Maggie might be little, but she gets a ton of digs and really played ferociously."
Team-wise, the `Dogs held Utah State to a .119 hitting mark - more than .100 lower than its pre-match season average (.221) that ranked third in the league this week - while Fresno State's 85 digs was its second-highest mark of the year.
"We held them to a low hitting percentage," Netherby-Sewell said, "but we also have some work to do offensively. A lot of our sets were too far inside the pin, so we will work on that, and try to get our hitting up."
In other team comparisons, Fresno State sported advantages in kills (62-53) and assists (56-48), and Utah State owned edges in aces (4-0) and fewest service errors (4-5).
Utah State's Rachel Orr (19 kills, .222, 11 digs) was one of three visiting players with double-digit kill figures with Ellie Brainard (15 kills, .233, 6 blocks) and Tumua Etimani (14 kills, .100, 14 digs).
Other Aggie category leaders included Paige Neves (46 assists), Kaitlyn Vanhoff (9 blocks), Ashlan Rogers-Court (23 digs) and Erica Moscoso (2 aces).
Friday night proved extra special as the team celebrated a win during Breast Cancer Awareness Night in its special pink uniforms.
"It's awesome to have the cancer survivors here, and part of the various promotions," Netherby-Sewell said. "Their fight really really humbles us and brings us back to earth, and how the things we do are a lot easier. Their strength and perseverance is a lesson for us all."
In set 1, Utah State sported an early 7-4 lead before two kills of Wild's seven kills in the set tied it, 8-8. Five more ties followed through 14-14 when Utah State used a block and two Bulldog hitting errors to stake another three-point lead at 17-14. After a `Dog timeout, four straight Fresno State blocks (including three by Pearson) helped FS go up, 19-17, and force a Utah State timeout. The Aggies came back with three straight kills to tie it 24-24, with subsequent ties at 25 and 26. Franks then connected on a kill after a marathon rally via Wild's bump pass, and Brand capped the set with her fourth kill in the 28-26 decision.
In set 2, after eight ties through 12-12, Utah State went on a 9-0 run to force Fresno State to use both of its timeouts, and an Aggie service error finally ending the run at 21-13. A 6-1 `Dog response pulled Fresno State back within, 23-19, and led to a Utah State timeout, but the Aggies then used a Fresno State service error and block to force the intermission with a 25-19 advantage.
In set 3, the Aggies rolled out to a 13-8 lead early, but Fresno State connected on five straight points from Murdock via three straight kills and a pair of blocks to tie it at 13, then added three more points after an Aggie timeout to go up, 16-13. Four straight Utah State points later resulted in a 19-17 lead for the visitors and a `Dog timeout. Utah State added another three-point spurt to go up, 22-19, but Fresno State answered with a five-point run to go up 24-22 after two straight over-pass kills off its own serve, then took the set, 26-24, on a Wild kill and Brand and Pearson block.
In set 4, the `Dogs got out to a lead 4-1 behind the serving of Wild and sported a nine-point lead at 10-6, before Utah State soon retied the score, 14-14. Fresno State went back up 18-16 on a pair of Wild kills, but Utah State answered with four straight points from Brainard on two straight blocks, and a pair of kills for a 20-18 lead. The Aggies pushed their lead to 23-20, but the `Dogs ended the match on a 6-1 run thanks to kills by Franks, Brand and Murdock, and pair of Franks-Murdock blocks in the 26-24 finale.
Looking ahead, the `Dogs welcome Boise State (6-6, 1-2) for a 7 p.m. match Saturday night at the Save Mart Center.
The Broncos won, 3-2, at San Jose State Friday night after it lost its MW opening matches last weekend to Utah State 3-0 and 3-1 scores.
In other MW action Friday night, the other three matches were decided by 3-0 sweeps with No. 19 Colorado State over Air Force, New Mexico over Wyoming, and UNLV over Nevada.
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