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Bucs volleyball ready to take next step

Tanner Cook • Updated Nov 16, 2017 at 3:18 PM

When the East Tennessee State volleyball team started off the season 0-3 at the LUV Invitational, the Bucs went up against some pretty stout competition in Lipscomb, Arizona and Wichita State.

Through the first three weeks of the season, the Bucs were still struggling to get above .500, going just 4-3 over the next three tournaments in Boone, North Carolina, Bowling Green, Kentucky, and Blacksburg, Virginia.

When conference play started, it was almost like a different team had taken the floor as ETSU posted a 12-4 league worksheet and earned the No. 2 seed for the Southern Conference tournament.

ETSU won 11 out of the last 13 matches on the schedule and enter the tournament arguably playing their best volleyball of the season.

The Bucs have presented a balanced attack on the season, led by first team all-conference selections Rylee Milhorn and Leah Clayton. One of the most significant contributors for the team has been Libero and freshman of the year winner Marija Popovic from Serbia. Popvic also earned a spot on the all-freshman team in the conference.

Milhorn finished the season with 220 kills and 60 aces. Milhorn also was able to record her 1,000th kill and 1,000th dig during the season, making her one of only 27 Division I players to achieve the feat.

Clayton finished the season with 211 kills and four double-doubles on the season She also had two 20-kill matches throughout the season.

Historically the conference tournament has been unkind to the Bucs, whether it be the SoCon or Atlantic Sun, as they have not been past the semifinals since 2012 — when they won the Atlantic Sun Championship. That is also the last time the Bucs have been to the NCAA tournament, even though they have since posted two 20-win seasons behind the leadership of coach Lindsey Devine. 

The Bucs were bounced out of the tournament last year by Samford in a clean seep by the Bulldogs, 3-0.

The Bucs begin the SoCon tournament in Cullowhee, North Carolina on Friday as they play host Western Carolina.

Furman enters the tournament as they No. 1 seed with a 12-2 record in the conference. The Paladins split with the Bucs on the season, as each team took the home match.

The Catamounts enter the match with a 11-18 overall record and 6-10 in the conference as they will try to play the role of spoiler as the no. 7 seed. The Cats are only 3-8 at home, but did manage to take the home match against ETSU back in mid-October.

If the Bucs were to win Friday, they would play the winner of UNC-Greensboro and Chattanooga on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

The more favorable matchup if ETSU were to win would be Chattanooga, as the Bucs took both matches against the Mocs during the regular season. ETSU split with UNC-Greensboro and won on the road in a dramatic five-set match.

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