WINGATE, N.C. – With three players reaching double-figure kills, the fifth-seeded Anderson volleyball team rallied from an opening-set deficit to earn the first NCAA Tournament victory in school history by topping No. 4 seed Tusculum, 3-1 (18-25, 25-20, 25-17, 25-17) in the opening round of the 2013 NCAA Southeast Region Tournament Thursday afternoon at Wingate’s Cuddy Arena.
In its first NCAA tourney appearance since 2008, and just the second overall in program history, Anderson (19-14) defeated Tusculum (21-11) for the second straight time and just the third time in school history. The Trojans advance to meet the winner of the ninth-ranked and top-seeded Wingate versus No. 8 seed Belmont Abbey contest in Friday’s semifinals, slated for 6:30 p.m.
“Tonight was a great night for this team,” said Anderson head coach Craig Mosqueda. “I am so proud of the effort and intensity we have played with as a whole. Our offense and defense was incredible. The team executed well, especially after the first set. Meghan (Cautero) did a great job setting our hot hitters which allowed Hailey (Pittman) to have a great night. Alix (Hooker), Shannon (Gillespie), and Kelley (Lacey) were key, as they passed perfect balls all night.”
The fourth meeting between the two squads this season was a rematch of the SAC Tournament semifinals that saw the Trojans outlast the higher-seeded Pioneers in a five-set duel.
The opening set was tied five times but the Pioneers never trailed en route to taking the early advantage. Kills from Rachel Garnett and Kassie Voelker gave Tusculum a 13-11 lead in the opening frame. AU junior middle hitter Hailey Pittman answered with a kill, but an Anderson error and a Victoria Ashley block pushed the TC lead to three at 16-13. A kill from redshirt freshman Priscilla Irizarry trimmed the deficit to one, but a 4-0 Pioneer run made it 20-16. TC’s Jaida Allen started it with a kill, while Caitlyn Dean capped the spurt with an ace. A kill from Danae Stauffer made it 24-18, while a block from Allen and Stauffer capped the opening frame.
The Trojans rallied from an early deficit and answered TC’s early win in the second set. A Shannon Gillespie kill capped a 3-0 run that gave the Trojans a 10-7 lead, with Megan Hasse cutting the Anderson lead to one with a kill, but a Pittman kill and TC error made it 15-12. A kill from Ashley trimmed the lead to two at 17-15, but another Tusculum error, followed by a Gillespie ace gave AU a 20-16 lead. Voelker registered back-to-back kills to make it 20-18, but an Irizarry kill, followed by three straight TC errors made it 24-18. Pittman capped the second set with a kill.
Anderson scored seven of the first eight points and never looked back in the third frame and led by as many as 10 points. Kills from Pittman and Gillespie put the Trojans on top 10-4 in the third set. An Ashley kill trimmed the lead to five, but a 6-0 run gave Anderson an 18-8 lead. Irizarry started the flurry with a kill and an ace, while Pittman added a kill in the surge. A Gillespie kill and TC error gave the Trojans a 24-16 lead. Pittman slammed home a kill to give Anderson a 2-1 lead in the match.
A Cautero ace and Gillespie kill gave Anderson an 11-9 lead in the fourth set, capping a 4-0 run. An Ashley kill cut the lead to one at 13-12, but a kill and an ace from Irizarry pushed the AU lead to 15-12 and the Trojans would not relinquish the lead. Another Pittman kill pushed the lead to four, but Voelker responded with a kill to make it 17-14. Gillespie notched back-to-back kills to make it 20-15 and the Pioneers would get no closer, as AU closed the match with a 5-2 run. A kill from redshirt freshman Tinsley Hallman, along with two Tusculum errors made it 23-16. Another TC error made it 24-17, while a block from Irizarry and Pittman finished the match.
Pittman, who was named Second-Team All-Southeast Region earlier in the week, recorded 14 kills on the day and added a pair of block assists. She committed just one error in 26 attempts for a .500 hitting percentage and has reached double-figure kills on 26 occasions this season, including 14 of the last 15 matches. Pittman now owns the 10th-highest single-season kill total in AU history. Gillespie, a First-Team All-Southeast Region selection, shared match-high honors with 14 kills, while adding eight digs and two service aces. The Fishers, Ind. native narrowly missed her 24th double-double of the season, while reaching double figure digs for the 28th time. The 5-foot-10 outside hitter needs just two kills to set a new school record for kills in a single season.
Irizarry, a SAC All-Tournament selection, posted her third straight double-double with 10 kills and 13 digs. She also notched three service aces. Junior setter Meghan Cautero dished out a match-high 45 assists, while All-SAC tournament selection Alix Hooker came up with 22 digs. Hallman added 12 digs in the win.
Voelker had 11 kills to lead the Tusculum attack, hitting .450 on the afternoon. Garnett added nine kills and four digs, while Ashley had eight kills for the Pioneers. Hasse contributed seven kills and seven digs for Tusculum. Ashley Sarmiento had 18 assists and 12 digs, while Hannah Berling had 18 assists and 10 digs. Dean collected 20 digs.