Story by Keenan Hall, Contributing writer
Murray State’s women’s volleyball team fell in three sets on Friday to Ohio University in its season opener.
The Racers competed in their first game of the season in the Samford Invite in Birmingham, Alabama, battling the Bobcats in three close sets before falling in the third 25-23.
Murray State had zero blocks in the first set leading to 12 kills by the Bobcats. The lack of blocks by the Racers led to Ohio taking the first set 25-19.
The Bobcats continued to have the advantage over the Racers in the second set, with a strong attack by Ohio resulting in another 25-19 set win.
Murray State came out of the locker room with a different attitude to start the third set, jumping out to gain a 7-3 lead. But Ohio’s Head Coach Deane Webb called a timeout to make adjustments, prompting the Bobcats to bounce back.
Murray State Head Coach David Schwepker praised Ohio’s length and size difference that gave the Bobcats the edge in the match.
“Ohio was very good, they were just at a huge block, definitely intimidated our girls cause we don’t even get to see that in practice can’t duplicate that,” Schwepker said.
The third set had seven ties and five lead changes. The Bobcats fought to relinquish each run the Racers had, eventually seeing Ohio freshman middle blocker Tia Jimerson force back-to-back kills to gain a 24-23 lead. An attack error by Giustino was enough for the Bobcats to claim the final point.
The Racers weren’t out of the match and stayed hot on the Bobcats trail. With Ohio not being in the Ohio Valley Conference, the Racers had little scouting reports in the Bobcats. Schwepker also applauded his team on their hard fought efforts. “We didn’t quit, we didn’t give up. You can see with the scores, Schwepker said.
“Biggest thing when we talked about what we wanted out of this weekend, we’re gonna see if we’re quitters or not, if we get up against a team that’s really good are we just gonna shut down and give up or are we just gonna keep fighting and see what happens, “ Schwepker said.
Giustino led the Racers in kills with 12 for the game. The Bobcats’ sophomore outside hitter Lizzie Stephens led her team in kills with 13.
Just a few hours later, the Racers rapidly bounced back from the Ohio University sweep and discarded the Southeastern Louisiana Lions in three sets that ended 25-13, 25-17, 25-21.
In the first set, the Racers stormed out to an 11-6 lead fueled by multiple kills from a host of players.
The Racers sophomore outside hitter Rachel Giustino, junior outside hitter Dacia Brown and sophomore right side Rachel Holthaus. They accounted for 6 kills. Also, sophomore outside hitter Megan Lindsey delivered a service ace.
Murray State kept the upper hand and never trailed in the first set. The Racers recorded five errors and 15 kills. The navy and gold marked the first set with a .520 hit percentage to help lead Murray State to a first set victory of 25-13.
The Lions began the second set seizing a slim lead over the Racers 5-3. But the Racers rallied to gain a 10-5 edge over the Lions.
Midway through the second set, the Lions faced a 20-15 deficit. Edo and sophomore outside hitter Chloe Holden recorded a kill a piece, but those were the last two points allowed by the Racers before halftime.
Murray State came out of the locker room aiming to keep the advantage. The third set was back and forth throughout, with neither team pulling away.
The Racers hitting percentage for the match was .247. The Lions struggled to hit with a .052 percentage. Southeastern Louisiana’s late run to extend the match fell short after a dominant group effort by Murray State.
After the loss to Ohio Head Coach David Schwepker was expecting his team to play better.
“They came back and played I think more comfortable again and started to gel, and realizing hey we can just keep going. I like the way they responded,” Schwepker said. “I think we should have beaten that team but that doesn’t mean anything, you gotta beat a team.”
The Racers doubled SLU in kills with 43 to the Lion’s 23. Holthaus and Giustino finished with double-digits kills, with each finishing with 13 and 12, respectively.
The Racers beat the tournament hosts Samford in four sets for their weekend finale at the Samford Invite.
Murray State’s only loss was the first set. They took control of the match winning three straight against Samford University to finish the game 21-25, 25-20, 25-21, and 25-19.
Sophomore outside hitter Rachel Giustino pulled off a double-double with 24 kills and 14 digs.
Freshman libero Becca Fernandez led all players with 17 digs.
The Racers started the match on their heels due to the aggressive attacking from Samford. Murray State trailed the entire first set. Samford posted double digits in kills, scoring 12 along with four blocks.
Samford finished the first set after holding a narrow lead thanks in part to six service errors from the Racers.
Murray State Head Coach David Schwepker spoke about how the two teams had yet to see how one another played. “We were just trying to get our stuff together in the first set. We hadn’t seen them play we didn’t have any scouting report,” Schwepker said.
After that, Murray State found a rhythm to start set two, stretching out a 12-7 lead before Samford Head Coach Keylor Chan called a timeout. To little avail, the Racers maintained a five-point lead 19-14.
Four straight attack errors by the Racers gave Samford new life as they closed the gap late in the set down 20-19. Samford’s attempt to take a stronghold of the set wasn’t enough.
A pair of kills for Racer junior outside hitter Dacia Brown and a service ace from sophomore libero Alex Kaufmann were the finishing touches of the second set.
Murray State carried their momentum into the third set until a bounce back by Samford as they grabbed the lead.
The Bulldogs scored 12 kills in the set. The majority of Samford’s production came from sophomore outside hitter Kelsi Hobbs, freshman outside hitter Kendal Strand and junior outside Krista Boesing. Boesing had a team high 15 kills.
The Racers had timely stops and stayed within striking distance. Murray State never trailed more than five points in the set and capitalized on Samford errors down the stretch.
Murray State freshman setter Ashley McBee posted the last kill before the Racers went up two sets to one. McBee also had eight of her 32 assists in set three.
The final set was a repeat of the last two. Giustino had a career night, nabbing nine kills in the fourth. Brown was second on the team in kills with nine for the game.
Samford played sloppy with nine errors in the last set. The Bulldogs doubled the Racers in service errors with 19 for the game.
Schwepker said the Racers had a bit of a slow start to the match. “We didn’t come out in fire, but then we made adjustments
Any momentum the Bulldogs tried to gain was denied by costly errors and the Racers played more efficiently and closed the match in four.
The win at Samford sends the Racers above .500 early this season at 2-1. The Racers head to the Chattanooga Classic next to play Louisiana-Monroe at 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 1.