Atlanta, GA-- Opening up play at the 2012 Emory Invitational in Atlanta, Georgia Volleyball found themselves matched up in their first match against a virtually unknown opponent, NAIA school Trevecca Nazarene, from Nashville, Tennessee. Despite having little knowledge of their opponent, the Ephs were able to dig deep in order to pull out a grueling 5 set victory 3-2 (23-25, 25-23, 25-21, 23-25, 17-15).
In the first set Williams opened up with confidence, first year setter Ryan Farley getting things off to a good start with a 4-0 serving run. Sophomore outside hitter Claire Miller then took over where her teammate had left off, increasing the lead to 9-1. Williams lead by as much as ten points, up 13-3, forcing Trevecca Nazarene to burn two early timeouts. The Trojans, however, steadily began to close the gap, whittling it to five points at 14-9. A block by Miller increased the Williams lead back up to 6 points at 18-12, although Nazarene then ripped off a 6-0 serving run to tie the game at 18-18. After allowing their opponents to take a brief lead up 19-18 the Ephs would rally to regain the advantage themselves, leading 21-20. Through the final flurry of points, however, it would be the Trojans that snuck out in front, winning the set by a score of 25-23.
After giving up a lead late in the first set Williams rebounded to play better in the start of the second, however a slew of serving errors meant that the score was a little too close for comfort. The introduction of sophomore outside hitter Raea Rasmussen into the set, however, proved a breath of fresh air for the Ephs. Rasmussen would slam home five of her ten kills in the second, helping to power the Williams offense. The Ephs also enjoyed a strong offensive performance from junior co-captain Emily Doll, who would tie with Miller for the team lead in kills with 14. A tough serving run by sophomore libero Emily O'Day would give Williams a lead at 15-12 that they would hold until the Trojans gutsily knotted the score at 21-21. Following a Williams timeout the Ephs were able to earn a set point at 24-23 and subsequently put the set to rest for good with a 25-23 victory.
Set three found the Ephs down early, but by the halfway point of the match they had managed to tie the score at 15-15. They would grab a two point lead up 18-16 as a string of key defensive plays, coupled with some clutch serving, kept the Trojans on their heels. First year middle hitter Catherine Egan would serve the team up to 22-17, which proved too great a distance for Nazarene to make up as they conceded the 21-25 set victory to the Ephs. In set four some tough serving by Amanda Schott gave Williams the early lead at 6-4, although Nazarene would tie things up at 8-8 and take a two point lead of their own at 13-11. Senior defensive specialist Lauren Agoubi would guide the team on an important serving run to tie the set at 14 apiece, although a 5-1 run by Nazarene erased any gains that Williams had made. A fierce charge by the Ephs brought the margin down to one point at 18-19, necessitating a timeout by Nazarene. With the Trojans leading 21-20 it would be Farley's turn to step back to the line to flip the score, giving Williams the lead 22-21. The Ephs would be unable to protect this margin, however, as Trevecca Nazarene would use up what little they had left in the tank to take the set 25-23 and force a deciding fifth set.
O'Day gave Williams a head-start in the race to 15 points in the fifth set with a 3-0 serving run to begin the set. After a Trojan timeout, however, it would be Nazarene's turn to go on a run, serving seven straight points to make the score 7-3. The Ephs would close the gap to two points at the change, down 6-8 before Nazarene cranked up the pressure again in rushing out to an 11-6 lead. Farley would cut into this lead, serving the Ephs back within a reasonable distance down 8-12, while senior Mika Nakashige would tie things up at 13-13. With Trevecca Nazarene having used up their final timeout, the Trojans appeared helpless as a kill by junior outside hitter Emily Baratta set up match point for the Ephs up 14-13. The Trojans, though, would not go down without a fight, and it was gut check time for Williams as Trevecca Nazarene would tie the score twice, at 14-14 and 15-15. Digging deep, the Ephs were barely able to distance themselves at the finish and close out the set, and match, 17-15.
Defensively the Ephs were led by Emily O'Day, who tallied 14 digs in the match. Just behind her was Emily Doll with 11. Sophomore Amanda Schott, adapting to a new role as a defensive specialist,chipped in with a further 9 for the Ephs. The true hero of the match, however, was Williams' blocking at the net, which aside for blocking for points consistently redirected Trevecca Nazarene's shots to help their defense or made hitters hit awkward angles around them. First year Catherine Egan would lead the team with seven blocks, while Doll would be second on the squad with five. Overall the Ephs recorded 12.5 total blocks. Setter Ryan Farley also came up big for Williams, giving out 44 assists to her teammates, helping to ensure that their offense stayed fluid.
Head Coach Christi Kelsey was pleased with the way her team battled for the win: "I was really proud of the way our team fought in every set, especially how they came back from being down 11-6 in the fifth set to get the victory….Trevecca Nazarene played some solid volleyball meaning it was definitely good for us to get a win."
Despite being both physically and mentally exhausted from the marathon match, the Ephs still had another match to play, against Elmhurst, ranked #12 in the nation by the AVCA. Williams relied on the tremendous depth of their team to see them through the first set, with the entire team pitching in to allow their teammates a chance to catch their breath. Elmhurst, playing in their first match of the day, came flying out of the gate, registering an emphatic 25-11 set victory. In the second set Williams roared back, leading as late as 18-17 in their bid for the upset. Elmhurst, however, was able to rally to close out the set 25-21. With their backs against the wall the Ephs tried one last time to break down their opponents to pull of the upset. Despite their best efforts it was not to be as Elmhurst closed out the match with a 25-16 set victory. Sophomore outside hitter Raea Rasmussen would lead the team offensively with nine kills, nearly half of Williams' entire total in the match. Defensively the Ephs dug up relatively few balls, with Claire Miller (5) and Emily O'Day (4) leading the way.
The 1-1 record on the day moves the Ephs to 7-2 on the year (2-0 in NESCAC), with their only losses coming to nationally ranked opponents. The team will return to action on Saturday morning, when they face Maryville (TN) and host Emory, ranked #6 nationally by the AVCA.