Tournament Champions: Racers overcome 0-3 start with first-place finish

After an 0-3 start to the season, the volleyball team bounced back last weekend, taking first place at the La Quinta Inn & Suites Highlander Invitational. || Photo courtesy of Sports Information

After an 0-3 start to the season, the volleyball team bounced back last weekend, taking first place at the La Quinta Inn & Suites Highlander Invitational. || Photo courtesy of Sports Information

The volleyball team returned from Radford, Va. last weekend with their first two wins of the season and an invitational title.

At the LaQuinta Inn & Suites Highlander Invitational, the Racers diminished any worry of another disappointing season.

Murray State played The Citadel Friday night and both St. Francis and Radford on Saturday.

In the first set, the Racers started off slowly but came back to beat the Bulldogs 25-19 with an 11-3 run. Murray State did not waste any time at the start of the second set and again won with a score of 25-19.

The Racers had a low attack percentage of .103 in the first set, which is calculated by subtracting attack errors from kills, then dividing by the total number of attacks. The team found redemption in a .375 percentage in the second set.

In both sets, freshman Kristen Besselsen led offensively with six kills in the first set and seven in the second.

The Racers beat the Bulldogs in three sets: 25-19 in the first, 25-19 in the second and 25-16 in the final. || Kylie Townsend//The News

Murray State took over the final set with a 25-16 score. Besselsen led the team offensively with 16 kills, while senior Wendi Zickfield was close behind with 13. The Racers also played solid defense with impressive blocks and digs.

The game against The Citadel lifted the Murray State attack percentage from .118 to .156.

“It felt great to get a win in,” said Head Coach David Schwepker. “The girls really needed the confidence.”

Schwepker tested the team with a massive rotation change Saturday morning against St. Francis. Originally the Racers were running a 6-2, meaning two setters handled the assists. During the St. Francis game, however, Schwepker decided to run a 5-1 with only one setter to be at every second ball.

After St. Francis, it was clear which rotation was best.

“We had 41 unforced errors, basically two sets of errors we made on our own,” Schwepker said. “We gave them two sets, (Murray State) could have sat down on the court and not have done anything.”

In the fifth and deciding set of the game, Murray state lost 15-7 after a 7-0 run. Taylor Olden had the highest number of kills at 11 for the five sets, followed closely by Besselsen with nine. Senior Lia Havili had 17 assists and Sam Bedard took 20 of the 41 total.

The Racers returned after wiping the slate clean and started back with their original 6-2 rotation to play the host, Radford. The team played their best set of the season, winning the first at 25-12.

Murray State had a season-high attack percentage at .279 and a total of 43 kills. Olden and Emily Schmahl both had ten kills for the night while Havili had a match high 33 assists. The team had a total of 14 blocks-the most of the season.

“We definitely needed this invitational to get us on track and where we’re supposed to be,” Schwepker said. “I know their confidence is up and they feel much better.”

After the game against Radford with the Racers claiming the invitational title, Lia Havili was named the tournament’s most valuable player. Havili had 72 assists and 25 digs for the tournament. Most of her assists came from the final game against Radford.

Taylor Olden was named to the all-tournament team after gaining high numbers in different categories. She had 29 kills, 23 digs and seven block assists.

Schwepker said he is proud of both Olden and Havili. He said Havili did not get as much credit as she deserved in last year’s season.

“It’s not that Havili is the type of person who would expect or want the award,” Schwepker said. “We struggled so much

last year, she didn’t get the recognition she deserved. It’s nice that she has a chance to now.”

As the Racers prepare for the start of their conference schedule, Schwepker said he has high expectations for the team.

“I hope that I at least see the same kind of play I saw on Saturday evening,” Schwepker said. “If we see a different team out there, I’ll be nervous.”

The Racers play their first home game against Tennessee Tech on Sept. 21 after they return from West Virginia University’s Blue and Gold Classic.

Murray State will play Cleveland State for a second time and West Virginia at the tournament.

Story by Lexy Gross, Staff Writer.