The East Carolina University volleyball team hosted Southern Methodist University, the defending American Athletic Conference champions, taking them to five sets before being narrowly defeated.

East Carolina University’s volleyball team battled another tough American Athletic Conference opponent, taking on Tulsa last Sunday at home. The Pirates (10-6, 2-2 AAC) erased a tough first set to earn their second conference win of the season.

The Pirates opened the game with a 5-0 set lead, but Tulsa responded by scoring 13 of the next 15 points and stopped ECU from going over the rest of the first set. ECU only scored 10 points during the rest of the set, resulting in a 25-15 loss.

ECU was able to bounce back from its rough 25-15 first set by earning a close second set victory, shifting momentum to the Pirates. Both teams went point for point for most of the set, but the Pirates were able to pull away by scoring six of seven points when the score was 16-15. In the end, the Golden Hurricane made it close but ECU escaped with a 25-20 set victory.

After the big second set victory, ECU head coach Julie Torbett was proud of the adjustments her team was able to make to shift momentum its way.

“I always believe in them,” Torbett said. “I know, if we execute the gameplan, that we are going to be successful. In volleyball, you get to reset at zero, so that’s a nice thing, you can get that first set out of the way, and go back to zero.”

An attack error by the Golden Hurricane a little more than midway through the third set, increased the score to 14-9 ECU, and from there, Tulsa would never threaten. The Pirates wouldn’t look back on their way to a 25-19 set win and a 2-1 match lead.

Now, with the Pirates just one set away from another victory, the teams swapped points again, but an 11-3 run midway through the set and a 7-3 ECU margin down the stretch was enough to push the Pirates over the top. Natalie Montini put the cap on ECU’s 11-3 run with a kill to grow the lead to 17-13 then was followed up with kills by freshman setter Shelby Martin, and senior outside hitter Lael Ceriani to bring the game out of reach, ultimately winning the fourth set 25-20.

Brandee Markwith, sophomore libero, and Alex Jessett, senior defensive specialist, played incredible defense for the Pirates all day. Markwith led the team with 23 digs while Jessett set a personal career high with 18 to help lead her team to victory. On the other side, senior middle hitter Montini led the offensive charger with a team high 13 kills. She also played her part defensively, leading the team with eight blocks.

Montini has saved some of her best play for AAC matchups since she set a career high in kills, 17, during ECU’s first conference win over the University of South Florida on Sept. 24th. She has been a key part to the success of the Pirates this season, elevating her game in both wins over two teams ranked higher than ECU in the preseason polls. Despite the success she’s had as an individual, Montini been more proud of the team’s success than her own.

“Honestly I just feel like everyone has played really well,” Montini said. “Our passes and our sets, Shelby (Martin) did an awesome job today, and our defense, back row was awesome. Once we all come together, that’s what really uplifts the front row too, so all of us just played really well.”

ECU was ranked 11th out of 12 teams in the American preseason polls, edging Houston in the rankings, because of the Pirates’ rough 5-15 conference record in 2016. ECU has proved these polls wrong already, defeating sixth ranked USF, as well as ninth ranked Tulsa.

While Torbett has said the preseason polls don’t mean much, she was proud of her team for beating two tough conference opponents that ECU struggled with last season, getting outscored 12-2 and going 0-4 against these two teams. The win over Tulsa showed just how much the team has improved over the last few seasons and snapped a 16-game losing streak to the Golden Hurricane. It was also just the second win over Tulsa in the program’s history.

“The significance, we beat USF on their floor for the first time since I’ve been here, and we had not beaten Tulsa since I’ve been here. That was a big thing we were going after is to get them, and there’s only a few teams left that we haven’t beat,” Torbett said. “That is something that we work towards, to get those wins. But those are really good programs and they’ve had really good volleyball for years, and that’s what we’re building.”Chase Carroll

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