Herd volleyball falls to Western Kentucky

Scott Bolger, Reporter

The Marshall University volleyball team (14-15, 8-6) lost its final home game Sunday to Conference-USA powerhouse Western Kentucky University (25-5, 13-1) 0-3 (23-25, 24-26, 17-25).

The loss may have broken Marshall’s four-game win streak, but the Herd clinched a C-USA tournament berth Friday and will still have an opportunity to possibly avenge this lopsided loss.

The Herd, similar to Friday’s match against FAU and many preceding contentions, used its 1-2-3 offensive and 3-2-1 defensive formations to combat WKU, who used a nearly identical formation.

Leading the Herd in kills was junior outside hitter Lauren Legge with 11. Legge would be the only Marshall hitter with 10 plus kills for the day, and was even out-pointed by two Hilltoppers in Jessica Lucas and Alyssa Cavanaugh. The two totaled 12 and 15, respectively.

Marshall also hit an uncharacteristic 12 percent for the match and was nearly doubled by WKU’s 23 percent. The Hilltoppers were more proficient when sharing the ball, and it showed with 44 assists to the Herd’s 37. They also totaled seven more digs with 59 to Marshall’s 52.

One may assume that the first set was a foreshadowing to a close match because both teams tied nine times. There were only two lead changes and unfortunately for the Herd, the final lead change was not in their favor. After a 13-11 lead acquired from Hilltopper net violations, and powerful spikes from the edge of the net by Legge and sophomore opposite Elyse Panick, Marshall’s cohesiveness began to unfold. Western Kentucky would win the set 25-23.

Twice, the Herd let volleys fall to the ground from indecisiveness, and hitters Legge and Cassie Weaver were out of touch on their strikes when choosing location, accounting for six errors while not hitting the ball deep enough to disallow WKU digs.

“Cassie (Weaver) likes to drill balls down into the middle of the block,” said Marshall Head Coach Mitch Jacobs. “She needs to stay above the block and go off the top of the block and move around deeper.”

Again, Marshall showed great promise midway through the second half. After being down 15-24 due to WKU’s 3-2-1 offensive and defensive set in which the front line was the focal point for all aspects, Marshall went on a 9-0 run headed by Panick’s versatility with vigorously hit kills from the left side and roofing blocks at both edges.

What brought the Herd to the nine – point deficit was the patience of WKU’s front line, never leaving its positions and consistently deflecting spikes so the back three could volley it back towards them.

Because of the run, WKU called a timeout. Hilltopper head coach Travis Hudson could be heard saying, “Just do what we’re supposed to do. We know the ball is coming from the left.”

The Hilltoppers then won the two remaining points, deflecting the Herd’s left side attack via roofing.

The third set was the least competitive, and maybe the disheartening defeats in sets one and two encompassed the exuberance of the Herd players. Marshall acquired a 9-7 lead from a few hesitation kills from senior setter Sammie Bane and sophomore middle-backer Ally Kiekover, but again, the team faltered and was outscored 18-8. Nothing was wrong with Marshall’s strategy, but technically, there were issues, and it showed, with numerous block attempts going out of bounds and the Hilltoppers front three battering Marshall spike attempts back into Herd territory.

When inquired about the loss, Coach Jacobs blamed it on a lack of ener gy and confidence.

“We didn’t have energy at the start to finish today,” Jacobs said. “I’ve never seen our team quit like that, but we did, and it’s embarrassing because Western Kentucky is a great team and we disrespected another opponent. We should always play as hard as we can.”

The Herd will take on Rice University in Houston, Texas Thursday. The Owl’s will be one of the swiftest teams the Herd has seen all year.

“We’re going to start breaking down tape tomorrow,” Jacobs said. “We know that they’re a fast team. They’re athletic, they have ball control, they do everything that is going to make it really hard on us.”

Scott Bolger can be contacted by [email protected]