By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Sure will and determination provided the Tennessee Tech volleyball team with a storybook Senior Day Saturday afternoon, as the Golden Eagles (17-13, 14-4) battled back from a 2-1 deficit to defeat Ohio Valley Conference regular-season champion UT Martin, 3-2, in the final match in the Hooper Eblen Center this season.
Closing the regular season on a high note, the purple and gold will head into the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament next week as the league's No. 2 seed, squaring off with a No. 7 seed that will be determined in Saturday evening's match-up between Lindenwood and Eastern Illinois. Play will begin next Thursday in Martin, Tenn. with the Skyhawks playing host through Saturday's championship match.
Tech's victory over UT Martin marked just the third in OVC play for the visitors in 2022 and provided the Golden Eagles their best win totals in both regular-season and league action since finishing 19-13 and 14-4 during 2008's title run.
The match started out in Tech's favor, with the home squad breaking a 10-10 tie and never looking back. The Cookeville crew moved out by as much as five and secured a 1-0 lead in the match with a 25-21 opening-set win.
Both sides saw their respective offenses excel in the second set, with the Skyhawks hitting .400 with 16 kills to Tech's 14 terminations on a .379 attack. UT Martin had control of the set most of the way, taking over the lead at 8-7 and never relinquishing it on its way to a 25-20 win to even the match.
Set three was all UT Martin, using an early 6-0 run to push out to a comfortable spot. Tech never really got its footing in the set, falling 25-14 while the Skyhawks hit at a .407 efficiency. UTM also held the purple and gold to a -.037 hitting percentage in the set.
It was a back-and-forth affair early in the fourth set, with neither side scoring more than two straight until the Skyhawks made a run after evening things at 12-12. A five-point streak helped UT Martin push out front and maintain a strong advantage up to a 19-14 lead.
Though the Skyhawks looked well on their way to their ninth-straight win, the Golden Eagles found a zone, dialed in, and attacked. Back-to-back points pulled Tech within three before the visitors answered with what appeared to be two points of their own.
Tech head coach Jeannette Phillips opted to challenge the second point, successfully overturning the call and turning a could-be five-point deficit into three. A service error by the Golden Eagles provided the Skyhawks their final mark of the set, as the Cookeville crew unleashed eight consecutive points to stun visitors, 25-21, and force a fifth game.
Defensive specialist and Tech Athletics' Unsung Leader for October, Olivia Taylor, led the attack from the serving line, forcing a UT Martin timeout when her service ace cut the visitor lead to 21-19. Middle blocker Skylar Boom lived up to her name on the next two points, rejecting one attack by herself before pairing with right side Morgan Gish for a block assist to even the match at 21-21.
An error by the UT Martin attack prompted its second timeout after giving Tech the lead. The Golden Eagles came out of the break with a gift for the Skyhawks courtesy of Brooke Amann, burying her one of her seven kills in the match. Gish followed with another termination to bring up set point before an attack error by the visitors ended it.
The fifth set was another thriller, coming down to the wire with neither side boasting more than a one-point edge until the Golden Eagles scored three straight while trailing 7-6. Tech extended the lead to three at 11-8 before UTM called for time.
UT Martin rebounded with a 5-1 run, taking a 13-12 advantage into Tech's final timeout of the match. Gish delivered a monster kill after the break, squaring things once more before Amann put the Golden Eagles back on top for good with her seventh termination.
One final timeout by the Skyhawks only delayed the inevitable, as Boom dropped the hammer for her fifth kill of the match to seal the incredible comeback.
During the match, rookie setter Jordan Karlen made history by breaking Kappy Lang's (2005-08) program record for assists as a freshman, piling up 50 more to finish the regular season with 1,063 helpers. She also racked up a team-high 16 digs for her 10th double-double of the season and chipped in two aces, a block, and a kill.
Gish led the match with a season-high 17 kills and added three total blocks to the effort. Libero McKenna Young picked up 15 more digs for the defense while fellow defensive specialist Aleeya Jones delivered 10 and a pair of aces. Taylor and Amann both collected two aces, with Amann adding nine digs as well.
Outside hitter Madolyn Isringhausen turned in her 10th double-double or better this season – the sophomore also has a triple-double – after registering 13 kills and 12 digs.
Following the impressive win, seniors Dallas Oatis, Madeline Furtado, and Taylor Dorsey were all recognized for their careers as part of Senior Day. Oatis, a middle, and Furtado, an outside, both joined Dorsey in the starting lineup, contributing early in the match.
Oatis tallied three kills and a dig while Furtado racked up four terminations and five digs. Dorsey produced when it counted all day, finishing her final match in the Eblen Center with 10 kills and four total blocks. The middle broke the program's all-time career block assists record Friday evening and moved to within 30 of the Golden Eagle career mark for total blocks, currently held by Stephanie Busch with 548.
Details on the OVC Tournament will be made available in the coming days on TTUSports.com and OVCSports.com.
Photo by Jim Dillon