Two tough road tests proved to be too much for the Tennessee Tech volleyball team as the Golden Eagles fell to in-state rival Austin Peay State University and the top ranked team in the Ohio Valley Conference, Murray State University.
Friday’s contest against the Austin Peay Lady Govs started well for Tech. They took the first set 25-18 and had a 6-point advantage 14-8 in the second set. The Lady Govs would not go away easily, leading to an evenly contested set with 11 tied scores and two lead changes. Austin Peay, fueled by a large crowd in their home arena and the injury of a teammate, rallied and took the last three points to win the set. That was the turning point in the match.
“For us, we stopped doing everything that was working for us,” said head coach Dave Zelenock. “Everyone sort of forgot what was winning and went away from it, and by the time we started to get back to it we were too late.”
The Lady Govs jumped out to a nine-point lead early in the third set. The Golden Eagles did not gain the lead one time during the set, eventually losing 25-17. In the fourth set, the teams tied twice, but Austin Peay lead the majority of the time. The Lady Govs took the fourth and final set, defeating the Golden Eagles 3-1.
Junior outside hitter Cody Dodd was the only player to have double digits in kills for the Golden Eagles with 14. She also earned 12 digs, giving her a double double. Senior libero Courtney Smith had a team high and game high 28 digs.
The task was tougher for the Golden Eagles Saturday against Murray State, a team on a nine game winning streak and has only one conference loss. The Racers have a strong grip on the top spot in the OVC.
“There is a reason why they are steamrolling the entire conference. They are really good,” said Zelenock.
“I think they are a good step above everyone. The No. 2 team is not right there with them,” said Zelenock. “Even though Belmont’s [conference record] is very similar, Murray is dramatically better, so everyone has got to get up to their level now.”
The Racers flexed their muscles early, taking an 8-3 lead in the first set. The Golden Eagles could never close the gap and lost the first set 25-16.
Tech made a serious charge in the second set, evening the score six times. The two teams went back and forth until the Racers finally separated themselves from the Golden Eagles and claimed the last five points to win the set 25-20.
Murray State’s talent began to show in the third set. The Racers extended their lead to as much as 15 points. The closest Tech came to the lead was a 2-2 tie early in the set. Murray’s Taylor Olden earned her last kill of the night, scoring the game point and capping off her 12-kill performance. The Racers owned the third set winning 25-11 and completed a sweep of the Golden Eagles in three sets.
Dodd earned the most kills again for Tech with 10. Smith also led the team again in digs with 10. The Golden Eagles finished with a hitting percentage of .224. The Racers more than doubled that percentage with a .545 percentage. Murray also had four players to finish in the double digits in kills.
“They do every element of the game at such a high level,” said Zelenock. “We do not need to just have a better day to beat them. We need to get better to actually beat them.”
Senior middle blocker and outside hitter Madison Keyes believes that facing top competition is a great opportunity.
“It is awesome to have the opportunity to go up against those teams and fight,” said Keyes. “In the past couple of years, we have not really had that opportunity to really be fighting for the tournament.”
The Golden Eagles were not surprised by the amount of talent the Racers had and were expecting to see a team that was going to push them hard.
“They were pretty much what we expected,” said Keyes. “The number one teams are going to hit fast and run to block. They are not going to give it to you. You have to really push yourself to go against them.’
Tech will battle two teams they already have prior experience against and may see again during the conference tournament. Today, they will travel to Nashville to face the Tennessee State University Tigers. The Golden Eagles are in Nashville again Saturday against the Belmont University Bruins. Today’s match will begin at 7 p.m. while Saturday’s game will start at 2 p.m.