By Layne Weitzel, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – In its home debut of the 2017 season, Tennessee Tech fell to the Jacksonville State Gamecocks in three sets (25-27, 20-25, 19-25), suffering its first Ohio Valley Conference loss of the year on Thursday night.
With upperclassman leaders Shaneice James and Kellie Williams out injured, Tech (2-11, 0-1 OVC) had just one senior (Allison Morrett) and two juniors (Shealene Little and Susie Jeziorowski) in its starting lineup, along with junior libero Kirsten Brugere. Jacksonville State (14-5, 1-0 OVC) started three seniors and a junior, adding another senior at libero. Tech hung with JSU in the first two sets, but in the end, the Gamecocks' maturity and experience won out.
"If you look at the makeup of the teams, they have four or five seniors on the floor at any given time. We have one," said head coach Dave Zelenock. "Our older kids know, but we didn't have them on the floor.
"If we can get some of these kids back healthy, I think we can make a really nice run and be in the (OVC) tournament as long as we keep progressing as we have."
Tech's team hitting percentage of .208 was its best since hitting .213 vs. Harvard on Sept. 9, and junior Shealene Little led the way with a .387 clip, along with a double-double of 13 kills and 11 digs and just one attack error. Her hitting percentage marked her highest of the season. Rachel Thomas also totaled a .300+ mark of .316.
"We did a really nice job passing, which had been a struggle for us in pre-conference," said Zelenock. "Jacksonville State's not one of the tougher serving teams, but we actually took advantage of it. We got to run some fast offense. We scored really well. Our defense on the other side was the problem. We couldn't stop their seniors."
Those four starting upperclassmen for Jacksonville State, seniors Allyson Zuhlke, Jennifer Hart and Charis Ludtke, along with junior Mackenzie Rombach, all hit above .280 to help JSU to a team clip of .272.
Tech's youth held its own against JSU in the first two sets. Down four points at 19-15 in the opening set, Tech clawed its way back to tie the score at 24-24 and fought off the match point once. However, JSU gutted it out to take the set at 27-25.
Tech's best team hitting percentage came in the second set at .235. The Golden Eagles held a three-point lead multiple times early on but couldn't sustain it. Jacksonville State tied the score at 15-all and would then go on a 10-5 run to win its second set at 25-20.
After Tech took a 3-0 lead to open the third set, it was all JSU from that point on. Tech scored four-straight after Jacksonville State had the match point at 24-15, but a kill from JSU senior Ludtke sealed the win at 25-19.
Tech travels west to Martin, Tennessee, on Friday for its first OVC road trip of 2017. First serve at UT Martin (7-7, 1-0 OVC) is set for 7 p.m. CT. The match will be streamed live on the OVC Digital Network.