The Eastern Kentucky University volleyball team fell to Jacksonville State in straight sets on Friday at McBrayer Arena. 

The Gamecocks won 25-14, 25-20 and 25-20 to take the match, 3-0.

Sophomore outside hitter Sarah Mitchell tallied a team-high 11 kills in the loss. Mitchell and freshman setter Taylor Grinley shared the spot for most digs at eight apiece. Grinley also finished with 14 assists to lead the Colonels. 

Set one was a game of runs for both teams. Jacksonville State jumped out to an early 5-0 lead. A kill down the line by Mitchell capped off a 3-0 run by EKU to bring the set within one, 7-8. The Gamecocks promptly responded with another 5-0 scoring run before finishing off the set, 25-14. EKU finished with six kills in the set to Jacksonville State’s 17.

Set two started much like the first set, with Jacksonville State up 8-2 out of the gate. EKU responded and went on a three-point run to get within two, 7-9, on a kill by Mitchell. The rest of the set remained close as EKU closed the gap to one point on a Mitchell kill and an error by the Gamecocks. Yet, Jacksonville State scored five straight points to gain set point at 24-18. Two plays later, the Gamecocks finished off set two, 25-20.

The third set started off strong for EKU. Freshman middle blocker Megan Duffy dropped one in from the middle to prompt a Jacksonville State timeout with EKU leading 8-5. Sophomore defensive specialist Josie Schmitendorf extended the lead to 9-5 on a service ace out of the timeout. 

The Gamecocks slowly chipped away at the EKU lead before tying the set 12-12 on a kill by Lena Kindermann. Anna Purichia, freshman outside hitter, retied the set at 13-13 and 14-14. EKU kept the game close and remained tied at 16-16 off a kill from sophomore outside hitter Molly Michalak, but Jacksonville State went on a 5-0 run to break the tie. EKU scored three points in a row late in the third, but the Gamecocks held on to win the set, 25-20.

EKU head coach Johnna Bazzani said the team has the talent to win, but could not get the job done against the Gamecocks.

“I don’t know if we really showed up to play today,” Bazzani said. “I think they’ve got a big heart. There’s so much talent there. It’s just trying to find the execution piece and how we mentally prepare for games.”

Jacksonville State finished the game with a 0.369 hitting percentage on 49 kills. Bazzani said the more experienced Gamecock team was able to use different strategies to run a smooth offense.

“They know how to put balls away and tool off blocks and put balls in places that we’re not, so the experience is what’s getting them more offensive options,” Bazzani said.

Despite Jacksonville State’s offensive success, Mitchell said the team was still able to find ways to score points by continuing to attack the ball. 

“Something that I was trying to tell myself was that I just needed to stay confident and swing for balls because we were able to find a way to get points,” Mitchell said. “Swinging away is a good way to get some momentum and energy. And that’s one thing I feel like we lacked tonight was some energy.”

EKU also kicked off Breast Cancer Awareness Month at the match. Bazzani hoped the stories and strength of those fighting breast cancer inspired the team.

“It just shows toughness and the mental hardships that they’ve had to go through … Hopefully, that touches them in a way that there are harder things in life that you’re going to go through, and especially going into a volleyball match, to use that mental toughness and that grit that those women have and take that to heart. But I think it’s a great opportunity to play for the cause. Anybody that’s struggling through that, they’re tough people and I applaud them,” said Bazzani.

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