By David Rogers. November 7, 2015. BOONE, NC — Even though one team is 12-0 and the other one is 3-12, rivalries matter — and the rivalry seems to intensify when it comes to Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, both in the second year in the Sun Belt Conference after long being adversaries in the Southern Conference.
COVER IMAGE: Senior setter Paige Brown sends the ball high for an outside hitter vs. Georgia Southern on Friday. Photographic image by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
The Eagles — who will host the Sun Belt Conference volleyball tournament later this month — are currently in a battle for the 8th and final conference tournament spot (only the top eight during regular season play get in). They are tied with Louisiana-Monroe with a dismal 3-11 conference record, but that didn’t stop them from giving the top-ranked Mountaineers a challenge Friday at the Holmes Convocation Center in front of 462 fans on “Senior Night.” The Lady Apps swept the Lady Eagles, 3-0, but each set was closer than the last: 25-14, 25-18, 27-25.
Junior middle blocker Ashton Gregory led all scorers with 17 kills, while senior outside hitters Emily Corrigan and Jess Keller each notched a baker’s dozen (13) of kills. Senior designated setter Paige Brown got ever closer to the school career record in assists, setting up the attack players 43 times. The fourth celebrated senior on the 2015 edition of the Mountaineers, libero and defensive whiz Meghan Mahoney, added 14 digs. Brown posted yet another double-double in contributing 12 digs along with her assists.
If anyone still thinks of volleyball as a slow-paced, non-athletic sport, they need to watch it be played by top-level college athletes. With women spiking at upwards of 60 miles per hour, defending “kill” shots requires a combination of positioning and reflexes — both of which were on display Friday.
Keller led the Mountaineer attack in the first set, registering 7 kills and a winsome .400 hitting percentage, but it was Gregory who was the center of attention in sets #2 and #3, pounding out 7 kills in each of those sets. Brown was pretty consistent in her assists, evenly distributing her setting across the three sets, 12-16-15. Corrigan was also a factor in all three sets, registering 3, 5 and 5 five kills, respectively.
While App State won the first two sets convincingly, Mountaineer head coach Matt Ginipro told Blowing Rock News after the match that the success Georgia Southern enjoyed in the third it — almost winning it — really started in the second set. “When you are playing a team that is way down in the standings with a losing record, the worst thing you can do, especially in a rivalry match like this one, is to give your opponent hope. We took care of things pretty well in the first set, but in the second set we gave the Eagles hope and even though they lost that second set, they took their momentum and hope to the third set.
“Though it was uncomfortable at time,” Ginipro added, “it was still a sweep, our 20th win of the season, and our 16th straight win, which ties the school record for the most consecutive wins. This is a special group of athletes and a special group of young women.
“Having to battle to win the third set,” concluded Ginipro, “actually helps us since it made us realize that we can’t take any plays off if we are to achieve our goals (a conference championship and a berth in the NCAA tournament). I’m still harping on little defensive plays. We’re making relatively easy plays look hard because of poor positioning. Those are going to mean big points as we head into the Sun Belt championships and against Arkansas State on Sunday.”
Celebrating Senior Achievements
More than anything, “Senior Night” is about family. It’s about the veteran players’ respective journeys through their college years, celebrating their accomplishments with parents who gave them precious life, support, and guidance in growing up, as well as with the coaches who nurtured their personal growth and development — athletically and as young adults — during their time in the program.
Appalachian State will be hard-pressed to find any group of seniors, in any sport, who have meant so much to their program as the four graduating volleyball players that were recognized during Friday night’s ceremonies after the match: Corrigan, Brown, Mahoney, and Keller. Each of them are either in or threatening to finish the season in the “top 10” in their respective key statistical categories, perhaps even near or at the top of the career stat lists in kills, digs or assists.
Next up for Appalachian State is a home match on Sunday vs. Arkansas State, then the Red Wolves will return the favor in hosting the Mountaineers in Jonesboro, AR on Thursday (Nov. 12). Both teams enter Sunday’s match undefeated in Sun Belt Conference play. At 22-1 overall, Arkansas State’s only loss of the 2015 campaign was to Missouri, which took five-set wins this season against both the Red Wolves and the Mountaineers.
Key non-conference wins for Arkansas State were sweeps past Southeast Missouri, Missouri-Kansas City, Saint Louis and South Florida to open the season. After their loss to Missouri the Red Wolves picked up non-conference wins against Florida Gulf Coast, Missouri State, Southern Illinois, Tulsa, and Stephen F. Austin before starting conference play. Their latest victim was Georgia State, which Arkansas State swept convincingly Friday night, 25-12, 25-14, and 25-16).
The Red Wolves are led by freshman outside hitter Carlisa May, averaging 3.60 kills per set in 2015; sophomore outside hitter Drew Jones (averaging 3.21 kills per set and has recorded a total of 26 serving aces); junior setter Mallory Warrington (averaging 11.46 assists per set); and junior libero Markie Schaedig (averaging 5.47 digs per set).
The Red Wolves will face a Mountaineer team that suffered early losses to Charleston Southern, Iowa State, Virginia, and Missouri, with non-conference wins vs. Clemson, UNC-Wilmington, Gardner-Webb, Virginia Commonwealth, Liberty, Charlotte, and Western Carolina before opening Sun Belt play.
SLIDESHOW By David Rogers for Blowing Rock News