What a thrilling way to start the postseason for the Eastern Oregon volleyball team.
The 11th-ranked Mountaineers rallied from down a set to win their first game of pool play at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national championships over No. 21 Central Methodist Tuesday, 25-21, 18-25, 14-25, 25-21, 15-10.
“It doesn’t matter if you do it in three, four or five (sets) if you get it done,” EOU Head Coach Kaki McLean-Morehead said. “I was impressed with our ability to stay the course.”
The teams played to three ties early in the final set, the last at 6-6, before Eastern took control with a 6-1 run. Hailee Ackerman had two kills and a block in the scoring burst, and a block by Megan Bunn and Jet Taylor gave Eastern a 12-7 lead. The Eagles got within three points on a Jane Kickham kill, but a block by Taylor Tibbetts and Allyson Crisp gave EOU match point, and two points later, Tibbetts completed the rally with her 10th kill.
In a strong first set, EOU never trailed and led by as many as eight points. The Mountaineers took the set when Crisp finished with a kill. Tibbetts had four kills and two blocks in the first set.
The Eagles took over the lead with a solid second and third set behind a strong front-line effort led by Mariana do Nascimento. The Eagles’ junior, who recorded a match-high 19 kills and 10 blocks, had six kills and four blocks in the second set alone and added four more kills in the third set. CMU had eight blocks in sets 2 and 3, and took a 2-1 lead after Grace Stumbaugh’s kill ended the third set.
McLean-Morehead acknowledged CMU’s block was strong in those sets, but added, “It also was their serve/serve-receive game. They did a much better job (in sets 2 and 3). We couldn’t get them out of system, and in turn they were making us very predictable.”
The Mountaineers shook off the rough third with an early kill by Taylor giving EOU a 10-5 lead in the fourth set. The Eagles closed to within two points in four occasions in the set, but a 6-2 run, finished off by a block from Tibbetts and Taylor, put the Mountaineers up 21-15. A block by Crisp ended the set to force the decisive fifth.
“Really it was just taking a breath and realizing what we need to do and play the kind of volleyball we can play,” the coach said.
EOU’s victory came in spite of Central Methodist recording higher numbers in kills (69-54), attack percentage (.222-.128) and digs (111-90). The Mountaineers did shake off an early disadvantage in blocks to collect 13 on the match, equal to that of CMU. A major advantage in serving — Eastern had nine aces to just one for Central Methodist — gave EOU a boost, with Ackerman doling out four aces and Kiley McMurtrey serving up three.
“Those definitely made a huge difference for us,” McLean-Morehead said of the aces and the strong serving. “There’s a difference when we’re serving aggressively.”
Bunn led the Mountaineers’ offense in the victory with 13 kills. Ackerman recorded eight kills, and Crisp had seven kills and seven blocks, including two solo blocks. Taylor came off the bench to add six kills and four block assists, and Tibbetts also recorded four block
EOU was balanced on both offense and defense. McMurtrey had a team best 25 digs, Bunn had 22, Madison Pilon tallied 12, and Holli Mullins added 11. Pilon dished out a team-best 27 assists, and Sarah Carpenter added 17.
Along with the big match from do Nascimento, CMU had three players — Kickham, Marija Janjusevic and Viviane Viana — each add 11 kills. Alma Flores had 36 digs, and Shannon Peters recorded 33 assists.
EOU (24-7 overall) faced Oklahoma City at 10 a.m. this morning in its second pool play contest. A win over the Stars, coupled with Lindsey Wilson four-set win over Central Methodist earlier this morning, would guarantee Eastern advances out of pool play.