Racers win title rematch in five sets

Chalice Keith/The News

Story by Keenan Hall, Staff writer

Murray State volleyball survived in five sets to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and opened OVC play with back-to-back wins.

The Racers went the distance in a rematch of the 2016 OVC tournament championship game, winning the match 26-24, 20-25, 26-24, 18-25 and 15-13. The Cougars entered the match hoping to breach .500 in the early stage of conference play, but failed to overcome Racers’ resilience.

Murray State’s outside hitter Rachel Giustino followed up her previous match 20 kill match. Giustino also finished with 13 digs. Sophomore libero Alex Kaufmann nabbed 30 digs in the match.

The Cougars’ senior outside hitter Ashley Witt led her team with 16 kills and senior middle blocker Taylor Joens was second with 16 kills for SIUE. Despite losing in five competitive sets, the Cougars had a .217 hitting percentage, compared to the Racers’ .183.

Southern Illinois began the first set with a quick three points before Murray State sophomore outside hitter Megan Lindsay scored a kill to end the run. Then the Racers dished out an 8-2 scoring run extending their lead to 12-6. In response, the Cougars climbed their way back after a few errors by Murray State. They took the lead but Lindsay had two late kills combined with a kill from Giustino won the set for the racers 26-24.

Murray State struggled throughout the second set, as they hit a .111 hitting percentage and converted on 10 of 36 attempts. Southern Illinois scored 12 kills and committed only four errors. The Cougars tied the match at one set a piece with a 25-20 win. However, the Racers were missing a key attacker in sophomore right-side hitter Rachel Holthaus, who is third on the team in kills with 80 on the season. Head Coach David Schwepker said his team managed to overcome Holthaus’ loss on Sunday.

“I think we did as well as we can,” said Schwepker. There’s going to be adversity in everything we do in life and it’s how you are going to react to it, so I think they did a really good job.”

Murray State returned from the half and reenergized their attack. The Racers’ outside hitters increased their attempts notching 12 kills out of 39 hits. After Murray State stormed out to a 12-7 lead, an attack error by senior outside hitter Olivia Chatman followed by a pair of kills from Southern Illinois, brought the deficit to one. Similar to the first set, Murray State clawed back into the lead. Racers’ freshman Libero Becca Fernandez and freshman setter Callie Anderton both had pivotal digs down the stretch recording three a piece after being down 22-18. Murray State hit at a .179  hitting percentage, and won the third set 26-24.

SIUE forced a fifth set, posting another bounce-back set by hitting 15 kills off 45 attempts. The fourth set ended with a 25-18 set win in favor of the Cougars.

The back and forth flow of the match led to a close deciding set. Southern Illinois struck first, leaping to a 6-3 lead before a timeout from Schwepker. During the timeout, Schwepker told his team to either finish the game, or don’t bother competing.

“I told them if we’re going to sit down, then let’s just sit down,” Schwepker said. “Then I think they kind of got mad and started playing well.”

After that message from their coach, the Racers took momentum of the match by claiming a two-point lead. Giustino seized back-to-back kills as Chatman answered with a kill of her own that fueled the late resurgence by the Racers. An attack error by Witt after a Fernandez serve finished the match 15-13.

Coach Schwepker said the play from Murray State’s leaders in kills, Brown and Giustino, was critical to the team’s success.

“We need a lot of kills and production out of them, and when they do well, we’re going to do well,” Schwepker said.

The Racers moved to 10-4 (2-0) in the season and kept the Cougars winless in conference play. Murray State’s next matchup is on the road at rival UT Martin at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 29 at Skyhawk Fieldhouse.