CULLOWHEE, N.C. – It all came down to the fifth and deciding set Sunday afternoon inside the Ramsey Center as the host Western Carolina volleyball team upended visiting ETSU 3-2 in Southern Conference action. The Buccaneers entered the match with the second-best conference mark in the league but a fired up WCU team came out swinging and stunned the Bucs.
The Catamounts won the first, third and fifth sets to claim the victory. The first and fourth sets were very lopsided with WCU winning the opening stanza 25-15 and the Buccaneers taking the fourth set 25-13. The other three sets were highly contested with WCU taking two of the three. The second set went ETSU’s way 25-22, while WCU won the third set 25-20.
Coming off a dominant 25-13 fourth set victory the Buccaneers opened up the fifth set with a 5-2 run. WCU trailed in the period until a kill by sophomore Aleah Keaton tied the set at nine. WCU scored three points in a row including Keaton’s to take a two-point lead at 11-9. The Bucs would tie the set at 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 before the Catamounts were able to put them away. With the set tied at 15, WCU received a kill from senior Katie O’Connor followed by an ETSU error which sealed the upset victory.
The Catamounts improve to 8-15 on the season and 3-7 in league action while the Buccaneers fell to 11-10 overall and 7-3 in conference play.
Freshman Gabby Gray had a career day as she set new career-highs with 21 kills and 17 digs for her third career double-double. Classmate MaKenzie White moved past the double-digit mark for the first time in her career with 14 kills and three blocks. Senior Katie O’Connor was the only other Catamount with double-figure kills as she picked up her 10th on the second to last point of the match. The Cartersville, Ga., native added three blocks including two solo stops as well.
Senior Jo-Leigh VerVelde also achieved a pair of career-highs as she returned to her lone setter role. The Oostburg, Wis., native had career-highs in assists with 53 and digs at 24. She also added five kills, a pair of service aces and a block. Freshman Hannah Price, who had been splitting time at setter with VerVelde, moved to an outside hitter position on Sunday and registered seven kills and a solo block in her first action in a hitter role.
Sophomore libero Meagan Sanchez also surpassed her career-high in digs as she led the way with 33 in the match. Classmate Aleah Keaton added seven kills and a team-high five blocks on the afternoon.
The Catamounts just barely edged ETSU in hitting percentage (.226-.222) while the Buccaneers had three more kills then WCU (68-65).
Rylee Milhorn led the Bucs with 20 kills while Leah Clayton added 14 kills. ETSU libero Marija Popovic led all defensive players with 34 digs.
WCU will now begin preparations for another Southern Conference road weekend. The Catamounts travel to Mercer on Friday, Oct. 27 before heading to Samford on Saturday, Oct. 28.