JACKSONVILLE, Ala. – Belmont University Volleyball displayed incredible grit as it dug deep to force an extra set on the road Saturday night. The Bruins' (0-16, 0-4 OVC) valiant comeback effort fell shy as they fell, 3-1, at Jacksonville State (8-9, 1-3 OVC).
The teams traded points early until sophomore Mackenzie LePage (Franklin, Tenn.) knocked down back-to-back service aces opening up a four-point run for Belmont. The Bruins continued to keep space between the teams and used a powerful kill down the center of the floor by freshman Taylor Floyd (Louisville, Ky.) to force the Gamecocks to call timeout, trailing 14-10. Suddenly, Jacksonville State used a 3-0 run to move within one point and BU was pushed to call a huddle session to break the momentum. The teams stalemated at 15-15 before a 4-0 run by JSU gave them a slim point advantage. Belmont burned its final timeout of the frame in the midst and began to chip away at the point differential. However, the Gamecocks were able to hold onto their lead in the waning points and take the set, 25-18.
JSU grabbed an early lead to start the second stanza but the Bruins used kills from seniors Maggie Mullins (Nashville, Tenn.) and Alexa Nichols (Walton, Ky.) and Floyd to knot the score, 7-7. The teams continued to trade points until the Gamecocks used a 3-0 run to take a 15-12 lead. With the deficit, the Bruins called their first huddle session to get back into the set. Jacksonville State continued to rally and used a 6-0 run to take a 24-15 lead. Belmont continued to fight and added one more point after a JSU service error but they rebounded with a kill to take the set, 25-16.
Back-to-back aces for senior Haley Sullivan (Lemont, Ill.) helped the Bruins start hot in the third set. The score was briefly stalemated at 4-4 before a flurry of points by Belmont put it ahead, 7-4, and forced the Gamecocks to burn their first timeout of the frame. Jacksonville State came out hot out of the brief break and went on to knot the score before rolling off five-straight points to take a 15-13 lead. The Bruins battled back and gutted out a slim 19-17 advantage. JSU continued to play the hot hitting Bruins tight, inching to within one, 21-20. Belmont called a preventative timeout and used a block by freshman Mary Catherine Ball (Hendersonville, N.C.) and Nichols to stay ahead, 23-20. The Gamecocks fought back to tie the score at 23 before a kill by Ball put set point in Belmont's sights before a JSU error secured the 25-23 win and forced extra sets.
The Gamecocks scored first in the fourth frame but the Bruins rolled off three-straight points to take an early lead, 3-2. JSU used a 7-1 run to take an 11-7 lead, forcing Belmont to call its first timeout of the stanza in the midst of the flurry. Jacksonville State continued to rally and built a 15-8 advantage that saw BU burn its final timeout of the set. The offensive rhythm of the previous set seemed to escape Belmont down the stretch. JSU was able to build its first double digit lead of the entire match and never looked back. The Bruins were able to get within nine but the Gamecocks went on the take the stanza, 25-14.
"Even though the result did not go in our favor, I believe the team learned what a true fight really means on every single point. With that understanding, it's just a matter of time," said head coach Tony Howell. "The rest of the pieces will fall into place. We have to stay faithful and true to the process and believe in these young ladies and all their efforts."
Nichols and Floyd led BU with eight kills apiece while Mullins and Ball each added seven kills each. Freshman Carly Mason (Forsyth, Ill.) and sophomore Akia Warrior (Ft. Worth, Texas) posted 16 and 15 assists, respectively. For the first time this season, a trio of Bruins posted two service aces – LePage, Sullivan and senior Tori Simmons (Murfreesboro, Tenn.). Sullivan also recorded a team-high 12 digs. LePage matched her career-best of two solo blocks in the effort.
Belmont returns to action on Friday, October 5 back in the friendly confines of the Curb Event Center. The Bruins host Morehead State for an OVC tilt beginning at 6 p.m. Live stats will be available and the matchup can be seen live on the OVC Digital Network. Fans may also follow the team's Twitter account (@BelmontVB) for live, in-game updates.