By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
AUBURN, Ala. – It was an all-around team effort on the hardwood Saturday morning for the Tennessee Tech volleyball team, as the Golden Eagles (1-1) took down the defending Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Jackson State Tigers (0-1) in the team's final match of the War Eagle Invitational, 3-1 (20-25, 25-20, 25-19, 25-21).
The win marked the first of the 2021 campaign for the purple and gold, which claimed the final three sets of its late-morning tilt with JSU at Auburn Arena. As a team, the Golden Eagles hit a solid .210 with 51 kills and eight total blocks. Tech limited a Tiger unit that finished 11-1 in the 2020-21 season – with the lone loss to Western Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament – to a .165 attack clip and 40 kills.
"I was very proud of our team today," Tech head coach Jeannette Waldo expressed. "We always talk about being given certain opportunities to grow and we persevered through one today. We walked into an unknown situation, went down a set, but developed the determination to respond in the next three. We need these moments since we know they will happen later down the line. We attacked the situation as a unit, and as long as we can continue to stick together, we'll be in good shape."
The two sides waged war in the opening set, with the Golden Eagles fighting back from a four-point deficit at 12-8. Jackson State answered, knotting things at 14-14 before Tech responded in kind with a 3-0 run. The Tigers flipped the script, however, running off six straight points to retake the lead and then finish off set one with a 5-3 run to win 25-20.
It was all Tennessee Tech from that moment on. After hitting just .057 in the first set, the Cookeville crew regrouped and turned in a fierce onslaught that resulted in 13 kills. After falling behind very early, 5-3, the purple and gold rolled off eight consecutive points for an 11-5 lead. The remainder of the set saw JSU attempt to chip away at the advantage, but it proved futile as the Golden Eagles tied things up at 1-1 with a 25-20 win.
Tech turned things up a notch in the third set, hitting a robust .355 with 13 more kills and just two attack errors. The burst of energy saw the Golden Eagles open up as much as a nine-point lead at 23-14. The Tigers mounted a rally attempt, but it was too little too late with the purple and gold clamping down a 25-19 victory and 2-1 lead in the match.
In the decisive fourth set, a 3-1 Jackson State edge quickly flipped to the Golden Eagle side, with Tech rattling off six straight at one point for a 12-6 lead. The two sides battled back-and-forth the rest of the way, but Tech never let the defending SWAC champs back in the match, closing the door for a 25-21 set win and 3-1 victory in the match.
Veteran setter Ashley Hand quarterbacked the offense all day, dishing out 39 assists. The senior also slipped in five kills on a .333 attack percentage and posted three block assists as part of a very well-rounded day.
"Ashley was great for us all weekend," Waldo said. "She is a phenomenal leader and she is smiling more than any other season. She is genuinely enjoying herself and her positivity is infectious to our entire team."
The positivity rang true, especially up front for the Golden Eagle middle blockers. Preseason All-OVC selection Taylor Dorsey was a solid presence, collecting nine kills and four block assists. Sophomore Dallas Oatis was a big addition to the rotation in the final three sets, chipping in five kills and three total blocks. Fellow sophomore Skylar Boom slid over to the right side after the opening set and turned up the heat with 10 kills and a career-high .556 hitting percentage. She also added a pair of blocks.
"It was nice to see Taylor bounce back and do 'Taylor things', as we call it," Waldo explained. "Dallas came in and brought much-needed energy to the middle position and we moved Skylar to the right side where she was obviously very effective. Skylar's versatility allows us to have some flexibility in our offense, which is always a good thing."
Returning freshman McKenna Young broke out for a huge match defensively, piling up a four-set, career-high 25 digs to help pilot the strong Tech offensive unit. The libero also turned in a pair of service aces.
"McKenna has been extremely solid for us in the libero jersey," Waldo added. "She has such a calm demeanor but is such a fierce competitor, that she earns so much respect from our team. It was great to see her get so much action today and shine through it."
For the second time in as many days, returning freshman Madolyn Isringhausen led the match in kills, registering 14 while chipping in a pair of blocks and four digs. True freshman Payton Lombardi was again effective for the purple and gold, producing a match-high three service aces and tacking on eight digs.
Fellow rookie Emma Pabon made her collegiate debut in the match, coming on in the fourth set for her first taste of action in the 2021 campaign, posting three attack attempts.
Both Hand and Isringhausen were named to the War Eagle Invitational All-Tournament Team for their efforts over the weekend, a first for both student-athletes.
Tech returns to Cookeville to host the Golden Eagle Invitational next weekend, beginning Friday, Sept. 3 with a 10:30 a.m. CT match against South Alabama. The purple and gold will also play in the fourth match of the day, squaring off with Valparaiso at 7:30 p.m. The tournament will wrap up on Saturday, Sept. 4 with the Golden Eagles' 2:00 p.m. tilt against UNC Asheville.
Photo courtesy of Auburn Athletic Communications