The Elon University volleyball team thrived on scoring runs during the first two games of the Elon Phoenix Classic, but wasn’t able to break free against East Carolina University on Saturday Sept. 14 as the Phoenix lost 3-0 (25-23, 25-22, 25-16) in a tightly contested match.
“East Carolina played with a lot more energy,” said junior middle blocker Kris Harris. “They played together, and they always got the ball up to their hitters because they were so scrappy.”
That scrappiness led to 42 assists for the Pirates, 14 more than the Phoenix recorded on the night.
“It wasn’t one specific thing that cost us tonight,” said assistant coach Tina Readling. “There were some mental errors, but East Carolina just played really well. They’re one of the better teams we have faced so far.”
“Willis is an absolutely great player,” Readling said. “She grew up in Raleigh, so we’re very familiar with her game and how well she scores.”
For the Phoenix, Harris had 12 points, two blocks and two service aces. Junior outside hitter Chanelle Smith added nine kills and four digs. Sophomore setter Ana Nicksic led the team with 13 assists.
On East Carolina’s side, freshman outside hitter Teynia Shepherd had 8.5 points and nine digs. Junior setter Zarah Cecich finished with 30 assists and a 0.857 hitting percentage.
The backbreaker for Elon came in the second set when a kill by Willis gave East Carolina the 22-21 lead. The Phoenix were arguing the ball was hit out of bounds on the play, but the point stayed. Two late attack errors by Elon helped the Pirates get the set win.
Elon tied the third set at 4-all, but East Carolina went on a 5-0 run and maintained the lead for the rest of the set. Two consecutive kills by sophomore outside hitter Torre Blake ended the match.
LAST TIME OUT: Phoenix dominate 5th set to close out Gardner-Webb
The match versus North Carolina Central University earlier in the day was a completely different result. Elon rolled easily to a 3-0 win (25-16, 25-20, 25-11), with the front line playing particularly well.
“We always want everyone up front to play really aggressive, even if we make mistakes,” Readling said. “But usually, good things happen when we play that way.”
Against the Eagles, Elon got an early 9-6 lead after a kill by freshman outside hitter Kayla Agae, who got the nod to start after a strong performance versus Gardner-Webb. The teams were tied in the first set at 13-all until the Phoenix went on a 7-0 run with Harris recording two kills and two blocks during the streak. Elon closed out the set after two consecutive blocks by junior right-side hitter Danielle Smith.
An attack error by Chanelle Smith gave N.C. Central a 7-3 lead in the second set. Elon scored six straight afterwards, with five points coming off Eagles attack errors to get the 9-7 advantage. During the scoring run, freshman middle blocker Ally Karle recorded three consecutive blocks.
The set went back and forth until Elon’s front line held strong yet again. Harris and senior right-side hitter Cali Estes blocked two straight shots to give the Phoenix a 23-20 lead and eventually the set win.
In the third set, it was the Phoenix who got the hot start, gaining a 7-1 lead after a Chanelle Smith service ace. The Eagles weren’t able to put up a fight after that. Nicksic assisted on four of the final five Phoenix points and an attack error by junior outside hitter Da’sha Brown ended the set and the game.
Harris led all players with ten kills and six blocks against the Eagles. Nicksic tallied 26 assists and a .500 hitting percentage. Chanelle Smith had eight points and four digs while senior defensive specialist Maggie Reichard led the team with 12 digs.
Brown had ten points for the Eagles. Junior setter Alice Genna chipped in 21 assists and one service ace. Russell added eight kills and one block.
Elon finished with a winning record at the Elon Phoenix Classic, and are looking forward to their final season of matches in the Southern Conference. Before conference, the Phoenix have four matches left in non-conference, starting with Radford University in Alimni Gym Wednesday Sept. 18 at 6 p.m.
“I think we played well as a team this weekend,” said Harris. “We need to play well before conference games, which we’re all excited to get to"