Competing in a tournament at Western Kentucky University, the Bucs knocking off No. 22 Washington State 3-2 (25-23, 17-25, 25-22, 18-25, 15-13) on Saturday — handing the Lady Cougars their first loss of the season.
“Wow! What a finish to our preseason,” said ETSU coach Lindsey Devine. “I’m so proud of the way the team handled playing against a very tall and talented Washington State team. There were so many moments in this match that players were able to reference from the other games we have played up to this point. In my opinion, that was a huge opportunity for learning and growing. We didn’t shy away from Washington State’s block. We kept attacking over and over. Rather than just talking about our “Why Not” mantra, we played with focus, which propelled us to win.”
The Bucs improved to 11-3 on the year with their first win over a ranked team in the Devine era. With WSU’s setback, only six undefeated teams are left in NCAA Division I volleyball.
This was the first five-set match Washington State has played all season and ETSU was the second team to take a 1-0 lead in a match this season (WKU was the first team the night before)
Leah Clayton registered a career-high 25 kills for the Bucs, finishing with a .308 hitting percentage and also eight digs and one solo block.
“I feel amazing right now,” Clayton said. “I think we played awesome. We stuck to the game plan. We really executed and we respected them, but we did not fear them.
Adding a season-high 53 assists was Alyssa Kvarta, who is now just five short of 2,000 career assists.
Kaela Massey totaledd 10 kills, three service aces and seven digs while Braedyn Tutton had nine kills. Her last kill ended the match for the Bucs.
“I feel great and I know the whole team feels great, but I know we’re not done yet,” said Tutton, who was named to the all-tournament team. “That’s one game. That’s one win. We have a whole other conference to finish and then we have a tournament to move on to. We’re just going to take it one day at a time and we’ll see what happens.”
AJ Lux also had nine kills, while Mariah McPartland tallied four. Marija Popovic played tremendous defensively and finished with 24 digs.
Clayton set the tone early, giving ETSU the first point of the match and a kill that would be one of many throughout the game. The opening set was tied four times before the Bucs ran away with a 10-point lead to put the score at 17-7.
A 6-0 run sparked the Bucs’ offense with kills coming from Tutton and Clayton. Washington State didn’t give up hope, going on a 7-1 run to make it 19-17.
With the Bucs still in the lead, WSU continued to battle. With a 24-21 lead at set point, the Cougars were able to add two more points to get within a point, but Clayton came through to end the set with a kill 25-23.
Ella Lajos clinched a second-set win for the Cougars. In set three, Popovic helped the Bucs jump out to a 7-4 lead after her 5-0 serve run.
Massey concluded a 3-0 spurt with a kill as ETSU grabbed a five-point lead at 15-10. Washington State fought back and took a 20-19 lead with a 5-0 run.
The Cougars had back-to-back kills to eventually take a 22-20 lead. The Bucs wouldn’t be denied, however, reeling off five straight points to gain a 2-1 match lead.
There were eight ties and four lead changes before the fourth set was decided. Washington State took a 12-10 lead with a four-point burst. Another run helped them build upon their lead to go ahead 21-15. Clayton answered with a kill and Lux and Tutton continued to battle to give ETSU points, but the Cougars would end it 25-18.
The Cougars were able to jump out to a 4-1 lead in the deciding set, forcing the Bucs to call timeout. Massey came out of the timeout with a kill, then back-to-back kills by Clayton tied the set at four.
The Cougars fought back, but an ace by Kvarta and an attack error by the Cougars gave the Bucs a 10-7 lead. Washington State pulled within one, but Clayton was relentless. Her play helped the Bucs stay in the lead and got the Bucs to set point with her back-to-back kills.
The Cougars put the score at 14-13 with a kill, but Kvarta set Tutton up perfectly, who slammed the ball on Cougar territory to clinch the match.
“I see that server on the back line and Kvarta looks at me and tells me what we’re running,” Tutton said of the final sequence. “I’m trying to empower my team every chance I get. I see the set go up. I see that seam and there’s no block on me. I swing the ball and it goes down. There wasn’t much going through my mind, but rather my heart. I was thinking more of what’s in for the team and the game.”
The Bucs begin conference action at Western Carolina on Wednesday.