Volleyball sweeps against SEC giants in tournament

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Volleyball sweeps against SEC giants in tournament

Sophomore Janell Fitzgerald celebrates a kill against SEC powerhouse Georgia in her third game back from injury. Photo courtesy of Texas State Athletics.

Sophomore Janell Fitzgerald celebrates a kill against SEC powerhouse Georgia in her third game back from injury. Photo courtesy of Texas State Athletics.

Sophomore Janell Fitzgerald celebrates a kill against SEC powerhouse Georgia in her third game back from injury. Photo courtesy of Texas State Athletics.

Sophomore Janell Fitzgerald celebrates a kill against SEC powerhouse Georgia in her third game back from injury. Photo courtesy of Texas State Athletics.

Claire Partain, Sports Editor

Texas State volleyball showed out as underdogs this weekend, toppling SEC favorites Georgia 3-0 in their first sweep of the season to conclude the Long Beach Mizuno Classic Tournament on Saturday.

The ‘Cats left the beach with a 2-1 record, their best performance of the season and a crucial win over the tournament’s hosts, Long Beach State.

Texas State pulled off the upset against the Georgia Bulldogs by performing season-bests in the front row and finally gelling together offensively and defensively.

“I can’t say enough about how pleased I am about this team and the confidence and belief they have in themselves,” head coach Karen Chisum said. “We were very very effective. It’s a big win for Texas State and the Sun Belt Conference over an SEC school.”

The team came in hot, racking up a seven-point lead at one point in the first set before just squeezing past the Bulldogs with a tight 26-24 win.

The ‘Cats then got in their groove with two aces and five consecutive points early in the second set to finish out with a more comfortable 25-19 victory.

Texas State finished the Bulldogs off with another 25-19 definitive win, making two four-point runs within the set and ending the game with a kill from junior Tyeranee Scott.

A key asset for the ‘Cats was their rock-solid front row defenses. The team wouldn’t budge, keeping the Bulldogs from pushing past the net with a whopping season-best 14 blocks to Georgia’s two. The Bobcats’ hitting performance was also night and day from their last home performance, with the team racking in a season-high .271 hitting percentage.

Senior Cheyenne Huskey paced the team on three fronts, pulling off a double-double with 11 kills, 10 digs and three aces. Jillian Slaughter led the blocking front with seven blocks, with sophomore Janell Fitzgerald just behind with six blocks and double-figure 10 kills. Sophomore Emily DeWalt proved to be the team’s most versatile tool, going across the board with 29 assists, seven digs, four blocks, two kills and one ace. Senior libero Micah Dinwiddie held the back row down, tying for a match-best 10 digs.

Part of the team’s success comes from the consistency of each player, even those on the bench, Chisum said.

“I think our bench is getting stronger and stronger because they’re getting more experience,” Chisum said. “Two or three kids that haven’t been playing a lot got an opportunity and they did a really nice job. I feel a whole lot better about our first 12 rather than six or seven and that’s great for a coach to feel that way.”

The win came directly after a tight battle against the big-name UCLA Bruins on Friday. The ‘Cats lost in three despite nearly bringing the Bruins down in the first and last set (24-26, 18-25, 23-25).

Texas State once again paced both teams in blocks with eight to UCLA’s six and just topped the Bruins in assists (40-39). Despite these stats, the team was below the Bruins in other fronts, going just under a .200 hitting percentage to the Bruin’s .303 and falling short in digs and aces. Both teams matched with 41 kills.

Junior Brooke Johnson led the defensive fight with nine digs while also recording one ace, while Scott brought in three blocks to keep the Bruins at bay. Scott also clocked in the highest hitting percentage of the game at .455 with five kills and zero errors, while Fitzgerald came back to the team with a vengeance with a team-pacing 12 kills.

“I think what beat us with UCLA, and we played them pretty tight, was losing the serving and passing game,” Chisum said. “We served and passed pretty well against Georgia, and when we pass well it puts you right into your offense.”

The team started the tournament by beating the tournament hosts themselves, Long Beach State, in a comeback 3-2 victory on Friday (25-17, 18-25, 19-25, 25-20, 17-15).

The win sliced through the team’s three-match losing streak, with the Bobcats topping LBSU in digs and aces. Texas State was still coming out of an offensive slump but managed a .215 hitting percentage to LBSU’s .244.

Huskey brought in her first double-double of the season and first of two throughout the tournament with 15 kills and 16 digs as well as four aces, some of which were crucial for the win Sophomore setter Emily DeWalt paced both teams with a double-double of her own, logging in 47 assists and 10 digs.

“We all really wanted a win after our past few games, and everyone was willing to do whatever it took to make it happen,” freshman outside hitter Courtney Heiser said. “The energy was great and our defense really stepped up, so we were able to get our offense back.”

Dinwiddie had her best game defensively of the season with 19 digs. Scott brought in a team-high two blocks, and both Scott and sophomore outside hitter Kenedi Rutherford had season highs with 11 kills.

The tournament marked the first time outside hitter Fitzgerald returned to the team after a minor back injury left her on the bench this season. Fitzgerald was a key factor in revamping the team’s offense, hitting two consecutive matches with double-figure kills and making eight blocks throughout the weekend.

Other key players Huskey and DeWalt, who were named Preseason Offensive Player of the Year and Setter of the Year respectively, added to their belts by making the Mizuno Classic All-Tournament team.

“I could’ve named four or five kids that could’ve made All-Tournament,” Chisum said. “If I was choosing, it would’ve been a hard decision, but I’m telling you those two were very deserving. They had a great weekend.”

After a day of rest from the weekend in Cali, the team will gear up for its next road trip at the Texas A&M Invitational Thursday through Saturday.

First up for the team is once again the tournament hosts, with the Bobcats playing A&M on Thursday for the first time since a loss against the Aggies in 2012.

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