CHARLESTON, Ill. -- For only the second time this season, Belmont University Volleyball posted a sweep in Ohio Valley Conference action. The Bruins (4-20, 4-8 OVC) battled hard to come away with a win on the road at Eastern Illinois (9-18, 4-8 OVC) on Saturday afternoon, 3-1, to remain in the hunt for a spot in next month's OVC Tournament.
At the top of the first frame, Belmont doubled the point production of its opponent, 10-5, and the Panthers called a timeout in hopes of slowing the hot handed Bruins. BU continued to roll, picking up points from senior Alexa Nichols (Walton, Ky.), freshman Mary Catherine Ball (Hendersonville, N.C.) and freshman Taylor Floyd (Louisville, Ky.). Eastern Illinois was able to close the gap to five points but the Bruins exploded again and doubled the point differential, 18-9, forcing EIU to burn its final timeout of the frame. Belmont continued to pile on the points using a 7-0 run to go up, 20-9. The Panthers attempted a rally late but the Bruins remained in control down the stretch as they took the set, 25-126.
The Bruins used a 5-0 run early in the second set to take a 7-2 lead but Eastern Illinois was able to chip away at their growing deficit and inch to within three points, 9-6. A pair of powerful kills from Ball aided by strong defensive play from senior Haley Sullivan (Lemont, Ill.) and freshman Peyton Kelley (Normal, Ill.) helped push the Bruins to a 16-8 advantage. By the midpoint, EIU inched to within three points again, 20-17, but kills from Nichols, Floyd, senior Maggie Mullins (Nashville, Tenn.) and sophomore Mackenzie LePage (Franklin, Tenn.) kept BU in front. A pair of kills by Floyd and Nichols saw the Panthers burn both of their timeouts in quick succession as Belmont stood on the verge of capturing its second set of the afternoon. Eastern Illinois took advantage of Bruin errors and pulled to within two, 24-22, forcing BU to call its first huddle session of the match. Immediately after the brief break, Floyd smashed a kill into the back court to seal the 25-22 win.
Eastern Illinois attempted to match the Bruins point for point at the top of the third stanza, even briefly knotting the score, 6-6. A 3-0 run was enough to put the Panthers ahead, 11-10, but the teams quickly fell into a back-and-forth battle. Another three consecutive points for EIU put it ahead, 18-16, pushing the Bruins to call for a huddle session. The back-and-forth intensified down the stretch as neither team was able to put more than two points between their opponent. EIU used a quick flurry to pull ahead 23-21, forcing the Bruins to call for their second timeout of the frame. The Panthers dug in their collective heels and pushed back BU to grab the 25-22 win.
The final frame saw the Bruins immediately jump out to a 7-3 lead to stake a claim for the win. Belmont continued to pile on the points, taking an 11-4 lead, forcing a stunned Eastern Illinois bench to call for a timeout. The brief break did little to cool the hot hitting Bruins as kills rained down from Nichols, Ball, Floyd and a service ace from Mullins. At the end of the flurry, BU gained a 10-point advantage, 15-5, that saw the Panthers burn their final timeout of the set. Eastern Illinois responded with four consecutive points to bring the differential back to single digits, 17-10. The Bruins surged ahead once again as first team to cross the 20-point plateau but a series of BU attack errors helped breathe life into the Panthers, who trailed 21-17. Belmont called for a huddle session to strategize and came out ready to defend its lead. EIU would only be allowed to add three more points as the Bruins pushed to the 25-20 victory.
A trio of Bruins reached double digits in kills, led by Floyd, who posted a career and match-high 18. Nichols notched a season-high 17 kills, followed by classmate Maggie Mullins (Nashville, Tenn.), who finished with 10. Sophomore Akia Warrior (Ft. Worth, Texas) recorded a career and match-high 49 assists. Her match total outpaced the entire EIU lineup by 10. Sullivan finished with a match-high 21 digs, just two off tying her career best output. Kelley posted 15 digs, followed by Floyd, who earned her second double-double with 12 digs.
Belmont returns to action November 2-3 in the Curb Event Center for the start of Senior Weekend. The Bruins host Jacksonville State on Friday, November 2. First serve is set for 6 p.m. Live stats will be available and the contest can be seen live on the OVC Digital Network.