Making Room in the Middle

Making Room in the Middle

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- After a slow start, Belmont Volleyball got in gear down the stretch for the finale of the Bruiser Showcase on Saturday.  The Bruins (5-2) outlasted in-state rival Middle Tennessee State (0-7), 3-1, to take second place in the tournament.

Following a brief back and forth to open set one, MTSU quickly began to pull away.  The Blue Raiders maintained a three-point advantage with the Bruins hot on their heels through the middle of the set.  After a scoring flurry, MTSU was ahead 20-16, forcing BU to burn its first timeout of the set.  The Bruins roared back, closing the gap to 23-19 behind a resounding kill by graduate student Jessica Vestal (Concord, Calif.) that would push the Blue Raiders to call their first timeout of the set.  However, Middle Tennessee was able to hold its three-point lead to take the set, 25-22.

The Bruins came out hot in the second frame, rolling off six consecutive points to start with the aid of numerous MTSU attack errors.  Even after a called timeout, MTSU seemed unable to find an answer to the streaking Bruins. Belmont continued to pile on the points, pulling ahead 18-8 using kills from Vestal and seniors Arianna Person (Lenexa, Kan.) and Brie Lewis (Stillwell, Kan.).  The Blue Raiders made a late push, hoping to build on some BU errors but the Bruins held strong down the stretch, winning 25-13.

After the intermission, Belmont remained hot, piling up early points.  The Bruins used a 6-0 run to go up 10-2, forcing the Blue Raiders to call timeout.  MTSU emerged ready to reengage but could not find an offensive rhythm.  The Blue Raiders sputtered along to try to reach double figures, capitalizing more on missing BU chances and errors than kills.  Even after its 6-1 rally, BU remained ahead of Middle Tennessee, 17-10.  The Blue Raiders burned their second timeout of the set but appeared to be on fumes compared to their earlier start.  Belmont only allowed them to score four more points as it went on to clench the set, 25-14.

MTSU dug in its collective heels early in the fourth stanza, looking to push the match to a fifth set.  The Bruins put together several runs to surge ahead after the teams traded points.  By their second called timeout with Belmont ahead 17-13, the Blue Raiders seemed to be running of out options to stop BU.  Back-to-back service aces by senior Emily Richards (Penfield, N.Y.) combined with a kill by junior Alexa Nichols (Walton, Ky.) gave Belmont a 20-14 lead.  A dual block by Person and freshman Huntir Bass (Mobile, Ala.) all but sealed the deal for the Bruins down the stretch.  MTSU saw a service error end their final rally and had the set to the Bruins, 25-18.

Person recorded her second consecutive double-double of the match with a match-high 12 kills and 15 digs.  Vestal also reached double digits in kills, adding 11.  Freshman Akia Warrior (Ft. Worth, Texas) picked up 35 assists while senior Ellie Ivancich (Naperville, Ill.) contributed 13 digs.  Ivancich and Richards each recorded three service aces apiece. 

Two Bruins were named to the All-Tournament Team for their efforts – Lewis and Person.

Belmont returns to action on Tuesday, September 5 when it hosts No. 24 WKU in the Curb Event Center.  First serve is set for 6 p.m.  Live stats will be available and the match can be seen live on the OVC Digital Network.