For the third straight outing the ETSU volleyball team swept through its competition as the Bucs continued their winning ways after taking down two-time defending Big South Conference champion Liberty, 3-0 (25-16, 25-20, 25-21) on Friday night at the Kentucky Classic inside Memorial Coliseum.
After dropping their first two matches to start the season, the Blue and Gold have regrouped nicely by winning the next three, improving to 3-2 on the campaign. Liberty, who has won six consecutive regular season conference championships and appeared in the last two NCAA Tournaments, dipped to 1-5.
The Bucs were fluid offensively as ETSU registered a season-high .326 (45-15-92) attack percentage along with recording seven service aces.
Freshman Renzey Rice (Johnson City, Tenn.) totaled three of those service aces, while junior Bethany Gesell (High Point, N.C.) added a pair of her own. Senior Megan Devine (Kingsport, Tenn.) posted a match-high 15 kills and hit a season-best .333 (15-5-30). In addition, juniors Meredith Hardy (Kingsport, Tenn.) and Ivey Rice (Johnson City, Tenn.) combined for 22 kills on an impressive .474 (22-4-38) hitting percentage. Hardy provided the Bucs with 12 kills and four blocks, while Rice pitched in with 10 kills and four blocks.
ETSU exploded out of the gates early by winning 15 of the first 17 points in the opening set and cruised to a nine-point set win, 25-16. The Bucs enjoyed three, 13-point advantages in the opener, with the last being an 18-5 lead when Susan Babcock committed an attack error. ETSU had the Flames back on their heels the entire set as Liberty only got within seven points (21-14), and the Blue and Gold won four of the final six points of the frame to go up 1-0 in the match. Hardy and Rice both recorded four kills and two blocks in the set, and as a team ETSU ended with 12 kills.
In the second set, Liberty jumped out to a 4-2 lead, but after the Blue and Gold mounted a 6-0 surge, ETSU jumped ahead 8-4, and from there the Bucs never trailed for the remainder of the frame. The Flames managed to pull even at 11, 17, and 20, but a block assist by Devine and Khadijah Wiley (Columbus, Ga.) fueled a 5-0 closing run to take a 2-0 lead in the match.
Despite trailing by as many as eight in the third set, the Bucs absorbed the Liberty punch and closed out the frame on an 18-6 run to wrap up the match with the 25-21 victory. The Flames won the first two points of the stanza and saw their lead balloon to eight, 15-7, when Babcock delivered on one of her five kills in the match. Fortunately, the Blue and Gold responded with seven consecutive points to cut their deficit to one, 15-14, courtesy of another Liberty attack error. During the run, four ETSU players helped earn points for the Buccaneers, while Hardy's kill later in the set put the Blue and Gold back up for good, 20-19. In the set, ETSU hit .433 (18-5-30), with Devine accounting for seven kills. Meanwhile, junior Jamie Rutledge (Kingsport, Tenn.) had 13 of her match-high 36 assists in the third.