Marshall Volleyball beats FAU 3-2 in thrilling fashion

Scott Bolger, Reporter

Last Friday, the Marshall Thundering Herd (14-14, 8-5) volleyball team earned its third consecutive C-USA tournament bid by overcoming a two set deficit bestowed upon them by the Florida Atlantic University Owls (17-10, 8-6).

The volleyball team representing Marshall defeated the team out of Boca Raton, Florida, 3-2 (22-25, 16-25, 26-24, 25-21, 15-8) and owned a four-game win streak after the victory.

Coming in one game below .500, the victory evened their wins and losses, a feat they haven’t accomplished since they defeated West Virginia on Oct. 1 in the fight for the Golden Ball.

Another reason to revere this victory over any of the other 27 games in the 2014 season, was the fact that lone senior and Brownsville, Indiana, endemic Sammie Bane celebrated her senior night before Marshall clinched a berth into the most important tournament of the season.

“She’s special,” said Marshall Head Coach Mitch Jacobs. “She’s special, she makes us special, and she gives us heart.”

Marshall and FAU both game out of the gate with differing styles. FAU primarily used 6’2” junior middle-blocker Brittney Brown as their point of supply for kills, switching her into a 3-1-2 after a defensive set of a 3-2-1. Since Marshall often served past or at half way mark of the Owls’ territory, the middle or rear of the 3-2-1 would hit the ball towards the front. After the initial dig, Brown would move back to occupy the middle offensive position while two Owls moved frontward to set the ball to Brown for her to employ her winding strikes towards Marshall’s open middle space.

Marshall, customarily, used its 1-2-3 offensive and 3-2-1 defensive sets where after a dig, setter Sammie Bane moved to the front for a set while the other two move back, then burst forward for strikes at the edges of the net.

The first set featured four instances in which the score was tied, most notably when it was knotted up at 20-20. FAU broke the tie with a kill from Brown, only to have Kiekover answer it with a spike from the right edge to the middle. Brown swiftly returned the kill favor to take a one point lead, causing Coach Jacobs to call a timeout at 21-22. The timeout didn’t payoff however, as Marshall ended the match with only one point scored by a lightly tapped Panick kill to the middle. Two of the remaining three Owl points needed to win the set were caused by Marshall itself, hitting the fall too far to the side and into the net.

Frame number two was worse for Marshall statistically and similar strategically. Marshall finished the first two sets with a 13 percent hitting percentage compared to FAU’s 35 percent. FAU changed their formation to a 3-1-1, where a randomly selected two players from the rear would come up for a kill, but the middle would always be covered by the libero. The Herd’s strategy worked, jumping out to a 13-10 lead with three kills from the left side courtesy of sophomore outside hitter Cassie Weaver and three on the right side from junior outside hitter Lauren Legge. The 3-point lead would eventually be relinquished, with FAU going on a 15-3 run. The squad practically gave them the set, because six errors went towards that 15 point total the Owl’s needed to take set two.

“That run was embarrassing,” Jacobs said. “I think it was a 15-3 run. It was the worst volleyball we’ve ever played in this gym and to do it tonight was just very embarrassing. I don’t really know what else to say, so I turned around and walked out. I’m sure there were words said when I left.”

Jacobs was referring to the intermission team meeting being the moment where he extinguished his fiery coaching. Luckily, Marshall has Senior Sammie Bane, a leader with the utmost humility and timely inspirational dialogue needed to turn a game around.

“When we played, I was a little embarrassed by the way we were playing,” Bane said. “When I’m heated, I don’t really know what I’m saying half the time, but I basically came in saying, ‘Where’s our pride? We’re on our home court, and this is senior night.’ I told them before the match, ‘I know its senior night, and I appreciate all the support and all the recognition, but this is still a team. We’re still trying to fight for a common goal right now, so it can’t just be all me. I basically said at halftime, ‘where’s our pride?’ We need to protect the M.”

And protect the M they did.

Marshall jumped out to a 20-14 lead In the third set with three blocks from sophomore Ally Kiekover and a slew of FAU errors, but the Owl’s clawed back with another run, this one being 6-2. The Herd called a time out with just a 1-point lead, and antipathy briefly struck the Herd unit as they tried to settle down and regroup.

“I had asked a question of one of the players and they kind of shot back with a little bit of attitude,” Jacobs said. “I pounded the floor and I was just saying, ‘I am with you. I am with you. I’m asking a question because I need to know what you need and what you’re seeing. I’m with you.’”

Marshall came out of that timeout and won the set 26-24, and never looked back after that. MU won the 4th and 5th sets by a combined score of 40-29. Again, Marshall stuck to its game plan and added efficiency, committing just four errors in both sets.

On the victory, Jacobs said the team became unified in the end.

“Man, what a way to find a way tonight,” Jacobs said. That’s such a good volleyball team (FAU) and I don’t know how else to put it. We started pressuring them more and it’s coming together. We’re coming together, and they did a good job.”

Scott Bolger can be contacted at [email protected].