Wildcat volleyball starts Florida trip with two wins

The Wayne State volleyball team opened its season Friday in Daytona Beach, Fla., and came away with a pair of three-game sweeps in the Embry-Riddle Tournament.

In the first match, Wayne State used a balanced attack to beat Westminster in three sets, 25-18, 25-23, 25-22. It was Wayne State's first sweep in a season-opener since defeating Northwood (Mich.) in 2015 and marked their seventh straight season-opening win and 13th in Scott Kneifl’s 14 years as head coach.

The Wildcats entered a stalemate with the Griffins to start the first, going back and forth. Down 10-9, Wayne State rattled off six straight points to establish a 15-10 lead. Kills from sophomores Alyssa Ballenger and Allison Timmermans as well as forced errors helped keep distance as the Wildcats forced a timeout by Westminster up 19-14. Wayne State finished the rest of the first set at a 6-4 mark, giving the Wildcats the opening set.

The second set started as the first did, with both teams feeling each other out while trading blows with each other to a 10-10 mark. Back-to-back kills from Jaci Brahmer and Tarrin Beller sparked an 8-2 run before the Griffins responded with three straight points of their own to force Wayne State into a timeout leading 18-15. Westminster came out of the timeout where they left off, tying the game at 18-18 before Wayne State could stop the bleeding. Neither team were able to extend the lead past one point, until a 3-0 Wildcat spurt from a Griffin service error and kills from Megan Gebhardt and Beller settled the second set.

Wayne State came out the gates firing on all cylinders in the third, taking an early 8-3 lead and never looking back. The Wildcats held a lead of as much as nine before a late comeback effort from Westminster fell short.

Beller led the Wildcats with a game-high 12 kills while recording three blocks. Ballenger contributed nine kills of her own. Gebhardt had 29 assists while junior libero Haley Kauth and junior Katie Stephens led the defense with 12 and 10 digs, respectively.

In the second match of the day, Ballenger, Beller and Brahmer combined for 29 kills and a .410 hitting percentage to lead them to a sweep of Lynn (Fla.), 25-17, 25-13, 25-21.

The Wildcats picked up where they left off earlier in the day, using a 4-0 start to set the tone for the rest of the set. The Wildcats were never tied or trailing in the first set, holding Lynn to a .119 hitting percentage, while recording 14 kills on .306 hitting.

After a back and forth start to the second, Ballenger and Brahmer led a 5-1 charge for the Wildcats, with three and two kills respectively. The two provided eight of the first 10 points for Wayne State as they began to separate themselves from the Fighting Knights. Up 11-8, the Wildcats went on a 11-2 run to cruise to the opening-set win.

The Wildcats hit at a staggering .667 behind Ballenger's six kills. Ballenger and Brahmer contributed defensively as well, recording two blocks apiece to help take a 2-0 lead into intermission.

The Golden Knights came out of the intermission hot, holding an 8-6 advantage early on. Down 14-11, Wayne State responded after a time out with a Golden Knight error and consecutive aces by sophomore Maddie Duffy to tie the game. Lynn regained the lead at 19-16 before the Wildcat closed with a 9-2 run to finish off their second sweep of the day.

Ballenger led the way with a game-high 11 kills, while Brahmer and Beller both accumulated nine kills each. Gebhardt was credited with 33 assists, and Kauth led the Wildcats defensively with 16 digs. Ballenger, Brahmer and Maddie Knobbe each had two blocks.

The Wildcats play Valdosta State (Ga.) Saturday morning before a match with tournament hosts Embry-Riddle (Fla.) in the evening.

The Wayne Herald

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