ETSU storms back to beat Tennessee in five sets

Tanner Cook • Updated Sep 4, 2018 at 11:16 PM

It’s always nice to beat “big sister” every now and again.

The East Tennessee State Buccaneers’ volleyball team supplied a non-conference statement win on Tuesday night, beating the University of Tennessee in five sets (21-25, 25-15, 20-25, 25-19 and 15-12) before an electric crowd of more than 2,000 at Brooks Gym.

The loss is the first on the season for the Lady Volunteers (6-1) as ETSU, currently riding a five-match winning streak, moved to 6-1.

“To be able to play in front of a crowd like that and to come out on the winning side, that was the deciding factor in that fifth set,” ETSU head coach Lindsey Devine said. “The whole plan was to stay the course and follow the game plan. When we scored to take the lead, I had to remain calm on the bench. I looked out on the court and saw how much fun they were having. This team is pretty special and they’ve been working really hard.

“Tennessee is a very good team. When they get into their conference, they’re going to be getting a lot of wins. They’re young and they’ll improve as the season goes along.”

In the final set, Tennessee seized the momentum right off the bat with a quick 7-0 lead and things looked bleak for ETSU.

However, that all changed in the blink of an eye as ETSU rallied with eight straight points to seize the lead and the match turned a complete 180 from what it was a few moments beforehand.

In the sets that ETSU won, the team had hitting percentages of over .250 and when it lost, percentages were under .100.

Kaela Massey finished with a double-double of 16 kills and 14 digs for the Bucs. She also provided four blocks.

Leah Clayton and AJ Lux each had 15 kills while Alyssa Kvarta had a big night with 47 assists. Sophomore libero Marija Popovic had 29 digs to lead ETSU on defense.

The first set was back and forth throughout. The Bucs had three leads in the set, none larger than a couple of points.

ETSU got behind late in the set 21-18, but rallied to tie the game. Tennessee would answer by going on a 4-0 run to close it out and win the opening set.

In the second set, the Bucs jumped out to a 6-3 lead on Tennessee. It was the largest lead of the match thus far for ETSU. The crowd inside Brooks Gym was loud and the fans were hungry for more as the second set rolled along.

Massey posted a kill midway through the second set to give ETSU a 14-7 and the Bucs looked to be in total control of the contest up to that point, never surrendering the lead once they got it.

Senior outside hitter Lux was able to slam the door shut on the Lady Vols in the second set with her ninth kill of the night. ETSU took the second set in dominating fashion.

The match was all square at one set apiece.

The Bucs had a two-point lead for most of the third set, but the Lady Vols had a 3-0 spurt to grab the lead at 15-14.

The 6-foot-3 Tessa Grubb was quickly becoming ETSU’s worst nightmare as the outside-hitter had three straight kills to put Tennessee out front for the first time since the first set. Grubb finished the match with 25 kills to lead all players.

Tennessee was able to close out the third set despite a furious ETSU rally that fell short late. The Lady Vols led the match 2-1 after trailing for most of the third set.

ETSU controlled the fourth set from start to finish, jumping to a 4-0 lead and never looking back in a 25-19 conquest.

“Every day we have to come into the gym with a clear mind,” Devine said. “This is a great win, but now we have to play for this weekend. We’ll enjoy this one for sure, but we were faced with a lot of challenges. I was really proud of the way our girls embraced those challenges.”

Johnson City Press Videos