Women's Volleyball

Lees-McRae edges Tusculum, 3-2, in five-set thriller

Lees-McRae edges Tusculum, 3-2, in five-set thriller
Box score

BANNER ELK, N.C. --- The Lees-McRae College women's volleyball team earned a hard-fought victory over visiting Tusculum College on Saturday, extending its winning streak to 12 matches after the Pioneers rallied from a 2-0 deficit to force a fifth set in Williams Gymnasium.

Lees-McRae (15-6) defeated the Pioneers (17-4) by scores of 25-20, 25-19, 19-25, 6-25, and 15-9, taking advantage of an early run in the fifth set after Tusculum (17-4) posted a statement 25-6 win in the fourth frame to force a decisive fifth stanza. With the win, the Lady Bobcats stretch their win streak to 12 matches, while posting their 15th win in their last 17 contests.

Megan Epperson (St. John, Ind.) led the way for the Lady Bobcats once again, tallying her 12th double-double of the campaign with 14 kills and 13 digs, while Whitney Justice (Connelly Springs, N.C.) notched 13 kills of her own. Mitchell chipped in 38 assists, while Dana Oliver (Davie, Fla.) and Chloe Casas (Plano, Texas) tallied 17 and 15 digs, respectively.

Rhayne Smitherman (Columbus, Ohio) tallied a match-high 19 kills for the Pioneers, while Bailee Price (Fort Wayne, Ind.) recorded a double-double with 11 kills and 16 digs. Ashley Sarmiento (Dayton, Ohio) notched a match-high 51 assists, as freshman libero Caitlyn Dean (Fort Wayne, Ind.) led the way with 18 digs. Sam Underwood (Muncie, Ind.) also chipped in 13 kills for the Pioneers.

Lees-McRae battled out to an early 14-8 lead in the first set, launching a 9-3 run with the score knotted at 5-5 as Justice capped the spurt with an emphatic solo block. Tusculum would rally, cutting the margin to 21-19 with an 11-7 run, before Lees-McRae closed out the set with a 4-1 spurt of its own to take an early 1-0 lead in the match.

The Lady Bobcats would surge to an early 8-2 lead in the second set before the Pioneers started to rally, going on an 8-5 spurt to cut the margin to 13-10 on a kill by Smitherman. Lees-McRae would answer with a 6-3 run, taking a 19-13 lead on a kill by Taylor Stice (Franklin, Tenn.). Tusculum would fight back, cutting the lead to 21-19 on a kill by Price before the Lady Bobcats went on a 4-0 surge to close out the set, and take a 2-0 advantage in the match.

Lees-McRae carried the momentum into the third stanza, opening an early 5-1 lead before Tusculum rallied to cut the margin to 11-10 on a solo block by Underwood. Tusculum would continue to rally, claiming a 14-12 lead on the heels of a 4-1 spurt, a lead it would hold for the remainder of the set as the Pioneers posted a 25-19 third-frame win to cut the LMC advantage to 2-1.

Tusculum would continue to dictate the flow of the match in the fourth set, evening the match with a statement 25-6 win as the Pioneers surged out to a 12-1 lead early in the frame. The Pioneers did not let up, closing out the frame with a 13-4 run while posting a blistering .500 hitting percentage in the set.

Lees-McRae responded in the early moments of the fifth set, opening a 6-1 lead to reclaim the momentum in the match. Tusculum would show tremendous character down the stretch, as the young Pioneers launched a 4-3 spurt midway through the frame to cut the margin to 9-5.

The Pioneers would stay with the Lady Bobcats throughout the remainder of the set, closing the gap to 13-9 before Epperson capped the match with a pair of kills.

Lees-McRae returns to the court on Tuesday when the Lady Bobcats travel to Charlotte, N.C. for a conference clash with Queens University of Charlotte at 6:30 p.m. The Lady Bobcats defeated the Royals in three sets on Sep. 14 in the teams' first meeting of the season.

- LMC -