GREENVILLE, N.C. – A big question in the first half of East Carolina’s campaign was who would step up and take control of the second outside hitter position.
Redshirt sophomore Izzy Marinelli certainly provided the answer Friday night as her career-high 19 kills and .410 hitting percentage lifted the Pirates to a 3-0 (27-25, 25-23, 25-23) American Athletic Conference victory over league newcomer Florida Atlantic inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.
ECU (12-3, 3-1 AAC) remained tied with South Florida atop the AAC East Division while the Owls (9-8, 1-3 AAC) fell two games behind with their third league loss in four attempts.
Florida Atlantic entered the weekend pacing the American Conference in points per set, kills per set and assists per set, but East Carolina matched the Owls punch for punch as the sides finished even in kills (44-44). The difference proved to be in the hitting percentage column where the Pirates limited FAU to well under its season average. The Owls committed 25 attacking errors of which nine were ECU blocks to finish at .140 while the Pirates, who lead the conference in hitting percentage, fired at .226 efficiency. East Carolina also held the upper hand in assists (43-41) and total digs (61-60). The Pirates really excelled in transition as they hit .227 compared to Florida Atlantic’s .074 showing.
In addition to Marinelli’s output, senior right side Fran McBride contributed nine kills and four blocks while junior setter Payton Evenstad ran ECU’s 5-1 offense to the tune of 41 assists to go along with four digs and four blocks. Sophomore outside hitter Angeles Alderete also paced all players with 18 digs.
Set One: The Owls got off to a fast start, building a 12-6 lead in the opener following a kill by Alicia Hearn. The Pirates began to chip away at their deficit bit by bit, sending FAU scrambling for a timeout after a Marinelli score drew the Purple and Gold within three at 14-11. East Carolina eventually knotted the score at 20 thanks to a block off the hands of McBride and Evenstad, but the Owls were able to capture four of the next six rallies to reach set point. Unfazed, the Pirates received a block from Evenstad and Farah Farooq before Kaila Ru misfired to knot the score at 24. McBride and Farooq briefly put ECU at its own set point before Katelynn Robine mustered up a kill to tie things once more. The Pirates ended up having the last say as a Farooq kill and Arianna Beckham attacking error ended the stanza in East Carolina’s favor.
Set Two: The Pirates looked to run away with the second frame, building an early 10-3 advantage on consecutive kills by Marinelli. Alderete stretched the lead to 19-13 with a service ace but a 6-1 FAU run cut the ECU edge to just one at 20-19. A block by McBride and Farooq put East Carolina on the verge of the set win only to have the Owls score three straight to forge a deadlock at 23. The Pirates would not be denied as a Beckham attacking error and McBride kill sent ECU into the intermission with a 2-0 match edge.
Set Three: Florida Atlantic used both of its timeouts early in the third when McBride’s solo block afforded the Pirates an 11-8 cushion. A Beckham attacking error pushed the East Carolina lead to four before the Owls rallied to tie the score at 15. Lauryn Green put FAU ahead 17-15 with consecutive kills, however, Marinelli took over and ripped off three consecutive kills a few points later to make it 21-19 in ECU’s favor. Farooq and Marinelli kept it going with two-straight scores to propel the Pirates in front 23-19 and Marinelli terminated the volleyball once more to give East Carolina match point leading 24-21. The Owls rallied one last time with a Valeria Rosado kill and Romina Cornelio ace, but Marinelli sealed the sweep with her 19th and final kill of the night.
Up Next: ECU and Florida Atlantic face a quick turnaround, meeting once more Saturday at Noon.