It was more like the Lady Bucs weren’t going down without a slugfest in a match that determined No. 1 seed in the upcoming Atlantic Sun Conference tournament.
After dropping the first two sets of Saturday’s match at Brooks Gym 25-19 and 25-17, the Lady Bucs pushed the Lady Dolphins to the limit in a 37-35 third set which featured 24 ties and 12 lead changes.
Six times, the Lady Bucs were at set point before their seeing streaks of eight straight wins and 14 consecutive home victories come to an end.
“I was really proud of the way we battled,” ETSU coach Lindsey Devine said. “When those moments are tight like that, you have to play really clean volleyball. I thought we did a great job of blocking and had some really good execution of kills. The difference between winning and losing at that point is so small. One little hiccup there, and that’s what happens, you lose a set.”
Jacksonville (27-3) tied ETSU for the Atlantic Sun regular-season title at 16-2 with the victory, but earned the top seed in tournament on the basis of sweeping the Lady Bucs head-to-head.
“We talked about coming in here and playing a great team,” Jacksonville coach Michelle Collier said. “We knew they were going to take the best out of us and we would be spent at the end of the match. I was just proud of how our girls left their hearts out there, how they played so hard.”
ETSU fell to 22-8 overall despite a valiant effort from Megan Devine, the team’s lone senior. Devine, a 5-foot-11 outside hitter, finished with a double-double of 15 kills and 10 digs.
She and former Dobyns-Bennett High School teammates Jamie Rutledge and Hardy were stellar in keeping ETSU alive in that third set.
Devine had nine kills and Rutledge had half of her 30 assists in the the third set. Hardy added five blocks and two kills.
“Just knowing Meredith’s and my mentality and knowing Jamie would get us the ball, that was what we wanted,” Devine said. “It’s a great chemistry we have. It’s unbelievable to play with the two of them, and I’ve loved every moment of it from high school to here.”
Despite the outcome, ETSU controlled much of the action at the net. The Lady Bucs finished with a 24-6 advantage in blocks, led by Hardy, who finished with seven blocks to go along with her eight kills.
However, Jacksonville had 19 kills and two service aces from Sammie Strausbaugh, whom her head coach said plays much taller than her 5-foot-8 frame. Taylor Nyquist added 13 kills, while Kendall Courtney posted a match-high 47 assists.
Most damaging to ETSU was the sloppy start. There were five service errors in the first set, and 10 unforced errors total over the first two sets.
“You can’t play hesitant,” Lindsey Devine said. “I think we were overanxious in the first set, and our mental focus on the service line wasn’t there. We couldn’t get into a flow.”
However, the Lady Bucs refused to fold in that final set, down 23-19 before reeling off five straight points. It was the first of their six set points in a marathon which included the ball getting stuck on top of the basketball goal on ETSU’s end of the court when the Lady Bucs were down 31-30.
After the first referee ruled for the point to be replayed, ETSU fought back to go up 32-31. Three more times, they were ready to close out the set before a service error led to three straight points for Jacksonville.
“It’s very upsetting that we did lose, but we have them again in the tournament, and the regular season doesn’t matter,” Megan Devine said. “We want to go to the big dance after that, so we’re ready for next week.”
The Lady Bucs will look to defend their tournament title, facing the winner of a match between Lipscomb and host Kennesaw State in the semifinals on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The winner of that match will advance to the championship set for next Saturday at 3 p.m.