East Carolina volleyball upsets AAC second-place Houston, 3-2

ECU Pirates

(ECU Sports Information photo)

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GREENVILLE, N.C. – East Carolina scored the upset of the American Athletic Conference volleyball season Sunday afternoon, rallying from a two-set deficit to stun second-place Houston in five sets (24-26, 17-25, 25-22, 25-18, 15-9) inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.

The Cougars (17-5, 7-3 AAC) had briefly claimed sole possession of second in the standings with a big four-set win at Cincinnati Friday night but fell apart offensively in the final three sets – failing to hit above .150 in each of the frames. Conversely, the Pirates (8-11, 4-6 AAC) saved their best for last by firing at a .385 clip in the decider.

With the victory, ECU has won six of its last seven encounters with Houston and avenged a five-set loss at the Fertitta Center back in 2019.

Sydney Kleinman paced three Pirate hitters who reached double figures in the kill column with 19 while she added a team-best 17 digs to complete her fourth double-double of the campaign. Natalie Tyson pitched in with 13 kills, nine digs and a .367 hitting percentage to go along with a 10-kill, 11-dig double-double performance out of Bri Wood. Notching the first double-double of her collegiate career was Payton Evenstad who recorded 24 assists and 10 digs. Additionally, Tia Shum anchored the back row to the tune of 16 digs.

Abbie Jackson led the visitors with a double-double of 31 kills and 12 digs while Kate Georgiades collected a contest-best 23 digs.

The Cougars entered the match with the best hitting percentage in the league, but East Carolina managed 14.5 total blocks as Houston committed 33 attacking errors. The Pirates put together a solid offensive performance, tallying 52 kills on 152 attempts with 18 errors for a .224 mark. The teams ended up dead even with 78 digs apiece.

Set One: The opening stanza was nip and tuck early with neither side building more than a three-point lead early. With the score knotted at 11, Jackson put down a kill that sparked a 3-0 Cougar run and forced ECU to call its first timeout. The Pirates were able to rally and tie things up at 17 thanks to a Kleinman kill, but three-straight Pirate attacking errors afforded Houston a late three-point edge. East Carolina answered with a three-point run of its own and the squads proceeded to battle to a 23-23 tie. A kill from Wood put the Pirates at set point, but the Cougars rallied with a three straight to steal the frame.

Set Two: Houston started to pull away in the middle of the second, breaking a 10-10 deadlock with five-straight points. ECU was able to slice the deficit to two at 17-15 but managed just a pair of points the rest of the way.

Set Three: The Pirates took an early timeout trailing 10-7 but found itself down 19-16 late when Jackson notched a kill. East Carolina dug down from that point and eventually tied things up at 22 following a kill by Wood. The Cougars signaled for a timeout to regroup however, it did no good as a ball-handling error and kills from Kleinman and Wood extended the match to the fourth.

Set Four: ECU carried the momentum into the initial stages of the fourth stanza, ringing up an 8-4 advantage. Houston could not find a response as a Kleinman kill forced the Cougars to call their final timeout facing an 18-13 deficit. The Pirate lead grew all the way to 20-13 before Kleinman later slammed the door shut with a kill.

Set Five: The visitors edged ahead 4-3 in the decider via a Jackson kill, but a service error and Kleinman ace swung the upper hand the other way. With the score deadlocked at five, the teams traded the next two points before a kill by Tyson kickstarted a 5-1 East Carolina run to forced Houston to utilize its first timeout. A kill by Jackson pulled the Cougars within 12-8 however, Sania Mccoy tallied two of the contest’s final three kills to complete the comeback.

Up Next: ECU begins the second half of AAC play on the road next weekend, traveling to Memphis and SMU.

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