ECU volleyball team opens season with loss to defending AAC champs

ECU Pirates

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CINCINNATI, Ohio — East Carolina began its American Athletic Conference slate with a narrow 3-1 (21-25, 26-24, 25-27, 23-25) setback to defending regular-season champion Cincinnati Thursday afternoon inside Fifth-Third Arena.

The Pirates (1-1) were searching for their first win over the Bearcats (3-2) since 2017, but lost the final two frames by just two points.

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Sydney Kleinman posted a team-high 16 kills while Bri Wood notched her second double-double in as many tries this spring with 13 kills and 14 digs as well as four blocks. Alisi Motu’apuaka also turned in her second double-double of the campaign, recording 32 assists and 16 digs. Defensively, Camryn Allen collected 20 digs and S’mara Riley piled up six blocks to go along with four kills.

Preseason All-AAC Team selection Maria Mallon made her season debut for Cincinnati, compiling 21 kills and 21 digs while committing 13 attacking errors for a .123 hitting percentage. Adria Oliver and Madison Waters also ended up with double digits in the kill column with 15 and 11 respectively.

ECU had a big day in terms of blocking, piling up 11 total stuffs to the Bearcats’ six, but Cincinnati recorded more kills (66-43) and digs (81-69). The Bearcats also out-hit the Pirates .183 to .159.

East Carolina jumped out to a 10-6 lead in the opening stanza following a Cincinnati attack error, but the Bearcats ripped off a 4-0 run to knot the score. Kleinman and Wood answered the Bearcats’ run with one of their own, leaving the Pirates in front 14-10. Another kill by Wood saw ECU maintain a 16-14 advantage, but Cincinnati fought back and eventually took a 19-17 edge. Kills by Kleinman and Sydney Hall brought things level at 19. However, the Bearcats ended the frame on a 6-2 run to grab an early match lead.

Cincinnati looked to pull away early in the second set, racing in front 12-6 via a Sarah Norcom kill. With the Bearcats comfortably ahead 16-9, the Pirates mounted a big-time charge. A kill by Kaiya Heyliger-Powell sparked an 8-1 run that drew ECU within a point at 17-16. An attacking error by East Carolina put Cincinnati in front 20-17, but the Bearcats started to misfire offensively, allowing the Pirates to creep in front 21-20. The score settled at 22-22 before a kill by Hall and Mallon attacking error propelled ECU to set point. Cincinnati stayed alive with a pair of consecutive scores, but Wood came up with a kill and Riley rejected a Bearcat attack in succession to give the Pirates the set.

East Carolina looked poised to run away with the third early on after a Hall kill saw the Pirates lead it 14-8. ECU held as much as a 22-19 advantage later on thanks to a Kleinman kill, but could not finish the home side off. The Pirates fought off two set points to tie the score at 25, but Waters came up with a pair of kills to end it.

Cincinnati procured an 8-6 lead early in the fourth set. However, East Carolina seized control by scoring seven-straight points to propel ahead 13-8. A service error later in the proceedings put the Pirates even further ahead at 18-11. As in the third set, ECU could not keep the upper hand as the Bearcats scored nine of the next 10 points to establish a 20-19 lead. A block by Hall and Wood evened things at 20 before the teams battled to tie scores at 21 and 22. Cincinnati would notch three of the final four points to escape with the win.

Up Next: The Pirates and Bearcats close out the two-match set Friday afternoon at 1 p.m.

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