Herd picks up 3-1 win against UTEP

Scott Bolger, Reporter

Marshall University and the University of Texas El Paso competed at the Cam Henderson Arena Sunday. Only one victor left the court, and the conquerors ended up being the Thundering Herd, winning three sets to one (25-16, 25-9, 22-25, 25-18).

With the victory, Marshall garnered its fifth Conference USA victory of the season (11-14, 5-5) while preventing the Miners (4-17, 2-8) from equalizing its conference record with Middle Tennessee, Florida International University and the University of Alabama Birmingham.

To perfectly construe the Thundering Herd squad’s Sunday performance against the UTEP was its own head coach, Mitch Jacobs.

“I thought I was dreaming with the efficiency we played with in the first two sets,” Jacobs said. “We looked like a veteran team that was on a roll instead of the young group we have. Reality struck in set three when UTEP put a lot more pressure on us with their serve, and I was proud to see us rebound the way we did and finish out the match.”

Coming into the match, Marshall focused on the Miners and their inability to waste possessions.

“They have some good ball control and they don’t make very many errors,” senior setter Sammie Bane said. “We were coming in wanting to play our game and play like we did Friday night. Even though we had the loss, we were pretty proud of our effort, so we wanted to come in, play hard and stay focused.”

In the first set, Marshall jumped out to a 4-1 lead, and never relinquished a winning margin that superseded three points. Making a living on the left side of their net was Bane, Lauren Legge, Elyse Panick and Ally Kiekover. Because UTEP served the ball near the central point of the Herd’s side, Marshall placed four players in the back with Bane, and another in front. With a few players behind the setter, one was able to counter by hitting the serve to Bane and then run towards her for the spike. The other Herd member in the front would rotate towards the back for coverage. What posed problems for the Miners was the matter of who would reap the benefits of a Bane assist, as a 4-2 quickly became an offensive 2-4, so UTEP had three potential hitters to account for. Marshall out-killed UTEP in the first set 20-8.

The second set was more of the same, except UTEP inadvertently peppered in errors into its gameplay. Marshall continued the 4-2, 2-4 exchange, except it focused on other areas of the court. UTEP and its 3-2-1 defense enabled it to be positioned properly for the digs, but the technical soundness wasn’t there. Dig attempts were almost never kept in play. Outside hitters and setters never slid into the quickly descending strike with an even body, thrusting the ball to the direction they slid in or behind them. In the first two sets, UTEP was only responsible for 17 of it 25 total points scored.

After halftime, UTEP made a necessary change to take the third set.

“They started serving the ball really aggressively,” Bane said. “They were pushing our service team back, which was making it tough on our passers, and they were really getting us out of system. It was a huge advantage for them because we have less options to go to. When we get pushed past the line, it takes our middle out of the play most of the time. They got a big advantage by serving the ball aggressively.”

The deep serve was also accompanied with a slew of errors after a 7-7 tie. Net violations, serving out of bounds, and improper blocking technique contributed to 11 of UTEP’s 25 points. An unfocused and possibly complacent Marshall team didn’t follow its coach’s directions.

“Kieko (Ally Kiekover), doesn’t follow the ball; it goes against the grain.” Jacobs said.

In regards to the deep serve, Jacobs said, “We don’t have to worry about them, just back up.”

Marshall also abandoned the effective 2-4, and only brought three MU players up, making the attack more predictable than in the previous sets.

However, like the veteran team Jacobs considered them to be Sunday, Marshall rebounded and won the last set. It didn’t revert back into the formation with four forthcoming hitters awaiting a Bane assist, but the 3-2-1, 1-2-3 change proved to get the job done. UTEP just couldn’t handle the dynamism of a vertical Kiekover, Legge, Panick and specialist Justice Craft. It showed with the continuation of digs going out of bounds. The four totaled 14 kills in the final frame.

The Herd will visit Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee Friday and Sunday, so picking up a win at home is always a plus before a road trip.

Scott Bolger can be contacted as