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Volleyball splits pair in Banner Elk, 10-match winning streak halted

Pioneers move to 17-4 for best start to a season as a NCAA II member

BANNER ELK, N.C. ---  The Tusculum College volleyball team split a pair of five-set non-conference matches Saturday afternoon at Williams Gymnasium on the campus of Lees-McRae College.

Tusculum opened the day by defeating Erskine College by scores of 25-16, 19-25, 25-13, 22-25, 15-9 to run its winning streak to 10 in a row.  The streak ended later in the day as host Lees-McRae held off a TC rally and won by scores of 25-20, 25-19, 25-19, 25-6, 15-9.  For LMC, it was its 12th consecutive victory.

Tusculum 3, Erskine 2 (Box Score)

In the opener for Tusculum, Sam Underwood and Ashley Sarmiento each recorded a double-double as the Pioneers knocked off Erskine in a five-set marathon.  Underwood tallied a dozen kills and 16 digs, while Sarmiento finished with 46 assists and 15 digs in the victory.

Caitlyn Dean tallied a team-best 23 digs, while Rhayne Smitherman and Alyson Ray accounted for 12 and 11 digs, respectively in the victory.  Bailee Price added nine kills, 13 digs and four blocks, while Ray finished with a team-best six blocks for the Pioneers.

Erskine (14-8) was led by Sandra Campbell’s 12 kills, while setter Larz Chabra added 34 assists and 14 digs.  Liz Massey led the Flying Fleet’s defensive efforts with 20 digs, along with her nine kills, six assists and three blocks.

With the score tied at 9-9 in the opening set, the Pioneers used a 14-4 run, including seven straight points by Price as TC won 25-16.  The Flying Fleet leveled the match, winning the second set 25-19, but the Pioneers used nine straight points by freshman Tori Welker early in the third frame, en route to a 25-13 win.  The TC run was sparked by two Welker service aces, three kills from Price and two by Underwood.

Erskine opened up a 5-1 lead in the fourth set and led by as many as 13-7 off a kill by Campbell.  The Pioneers answered with a 12-4 run to take a 19-17 lead.  The Fleet followed with an 8-3 run to send the match into a fifth and deciding set.

In the fifth, trailing 4-3, Tusculum scored four straight points, including consecutive kills from Price as TC led 7-4.  The Fleet cut the deficit to 9-7 following a TC attack error, but the Pioneers close out the match with 6-2 run, including a Welker ace on match point.

Lees-McRae 3, Tusculum 2 (Box Score)

If the drama of the first match wasn’t enough, Tusculum and Lees-McRae followed with another five-set thriller as the host Lady Bobcats prevailed for their 12th consecutive victory and halting Tusculum’s 10-match winning streak.  LMC won the first two sets, but had to hold off a furious Tusculum rally to get the victory.

Smitherman recorded 19 kills, while Bailee Price accounted for a double-double with 11 kills and 16 digs.  Sarmiento dished out 51 assists and eight digs, while Dean recorded 18 kills and three service aces in the loss.

LMC (15-6) was paced by Megan Epperson’s 14 kills and 13 digs, while Whitney Justice posted 13 kills and three blocks.  Dana Oliver and Chloe Casas contributed 17 and 15 digs, respectively, while setter Megan Mitchell finished with 38 assists, two aces and six digs.

The Lady Bobcats never trailed in the opening set and Justice closed out the frame with three straight kills to win 25-20.  In second set, LMC opened with an 8-2 run to take a two-set advantage winning 25-19.

LMC looked to be going for the sweep, jumping out to a 5-1 advantage thanks for four points by Casas.  But the Pioneers would later tie the match at 12-12 and used a 9-4 spurt to lead 21-16 following a service ace by Hannah Campbell.  LMC cut the deficit to 22-19 after a Justice kill, but TC would close out the frame with three consecutive points including an Underwood kill and a Welker ace on set point to win 25-19.

The fourth set was a dominating performance by the Pioneers as TC scored the first eight points of the frame and never looked back in a 25-6 decision.  Tusculum posted a .500 hitting percentage (11-1-20) in the set to send the match to a deciding frame.

But in the fifth, the Lady Bobcats bounced back, scoring the first three points and led wire-to-wire to win 15-9 and the match.

The Pioneers’ 10-match winning streak was the second longest as NCAA Division II member (1998-present), coming up one win shy of equaling the 11-match run by the 2007 squad (Sept. 15-Oct. 6).

Tusculum is off to its best start as a Division II member and best in 14 years.

Tusculum returns to South Atlantic Conference play this Friday night as the Pioneers travel to Catawba College for a 7 p.m. match.

- TC -

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