Bucs have many bright spots

Tanner Cook • Updated Dec 4, 2017 at 5:56 PM

The East Tennessee State volleyball season came to an end Friday night at the hands of No. 4 Kentucky in a 3-0 loss in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

This was the Bucs’ first trip to the national tournament since 2012 and was against the same opponent. The result of the match was the same, but the Bucs were more competitive than the last time.

The Match

The Bucs (19-12) got off to a good start against the Wildcats (28-3), but were unable to overcome the size differential between the two squads.

The Wildcats had a 6-0 run in the first set that proved to be the difference and they took the first set 25-19.

The second set was much of the same as the teams traded off points early, but Kentucky just had too much size and depth. The ‘Cats pulled away and won 25-20.

The Bucs’ best set of the match was the third set where they actually had a 3-0 advantage to start and Kentucky did not lead in the match until 13-12. The Wildcats pulled out another close match, 25-21.

The Bucs scored at least 19 points in every set against one of the top teams in the nation and gave Kentucky a run in the final set.

The key stat that jumps off the paper is that Kentucky had nine blocks while ETSU only had two. The hitting percentage was also quite low for the Bucs (.129) to Kentucky’s (.337).

Ultimately, the Bucs can take away a lot from the match and have a positive mindset going into next fall.

Kentucky won the second match on their home floor against in-state rival Western Kentucky in a thrilling five-set match. The Wildcats will look to continue their road to the national championship site in Kansas City on Friday against BYU.

A Look Ahead

The Bucs only graduate one senior, Rylee Milhorn, from this year’s team. They had three freshman, including libero of the year Marija Popovic, see significant playing time.

By contrast, Furman, which won the regular season title, will graduate three seniors and will have five seniors leading next fall’s squad. The Paladins were the most improved teams in the Southern Conference from 2016, increasing their win total from 11 to 21 matches.

The Bucs and the Paladins will likely be co-favorites to win the SoCon in the fall of 2018, but the Bucs may have a slight edge being that freshman like Popovic, Lexie Libs and Kalee Vanderhorst got so much playing time this season. The Bucs also return sophomore standouts Leah Clayton and AJ Lux.

It will be tough to overcome the loss of one of the best players in program history in Milhorn, but ETSU will be led by five seniors next fall that will be more than enough to have another run at the SoCon title.

Coach’s Quotes

“I’m really happy and excited. The game of recruiting is really tough,” ETSU coach Lindsey Devine said. “I like the incoming class for 2018, and we’re going to build upon that. As a coach you’re proud, but you have so many reference points that you’re going to build upon and be able to use coming into the spring and preseason next year.”

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