Freshman outside hitter Kayla Agae said the Elon University volleyball team couldn’t even remember the last time they played on their home court inside Alumni Gym.
That last time was on Sept. 18, a five set win over Radford University.
Since then, the Phoenix has won six of its last eight, and it brought an overall record two games over .500 into a Friday, Oct. 11 home tilt with The Citadel.
Elon took advantage of playing at home, earning a 3-0 (25-19, 25-20, 25-21) sweep to boost its Southern Conference record to 3-2.
“It’s awesome to be back on our home court,” said senior right side hitter Cali Estes. “A win’s a win either home or away, but it’s a lot more fun to play in front of our home crowd.”
The Phoenix had beaten the Bulldogs in five sets on Sept. 28 in Charleston, S.C., but was determined to come out and make a statement on its home floor this time around.
“We fixed some things we didn’t do very well last time,” said Elon head coach Mary Tendler. “I think our intensity was much better. There are still things to work on, but we’re happy with the result.”
Elon faced some adversity early on, as junior middle blocker Kris Harris, who leads the team in attack percentage and blocks, suffered a knee injury midway through the first set and did not return. But the Phoenix did not let up, as the offensive depth on the team began to come to light.
Sophomore middle blocker Catherine Head, playing in her first game back from injury, came in off the bench to contribute five kills and a pair of blocks. Five Elon players tallied at least eight kills as the Bulldogs struggled to contain the Phoenix hitters.
“We did a really good job of refocusing right away (after the injury),” Estes said. “Obviously, we’re worried about our teammate when she goes down, but our main goal tonight was to get a win. It’s awesome that we have people stepping on the court and right away contributing and being a huge part of our offense.”
The first set was tight early on before two kills by middle blocker Ally Karle and one from Agae put Elon ahead, 8-4. The Citadel fought to cut the lead to 11-8, but the Phoenix pulled ahead to take a 16-11 advantage. Down the stretch, Agae tallied three kills and a block to help Elon win 25-19.
The Citadel jumped out to a 4-2 lead in the second set before Elon clawed its way back to a 7-7 tie. From there, kills off the arms of Agae, sophomore outside hitter Megan Gravley and junior outside hitter Danielle Smith helped spark a 6-0 Phoenix run for a 13-7 lead. Smith added two kills late in the set, and Head hammered one down to complete the 25-20 set win.
The teams fought to a 4-4 tie early in the third set, but kills from Karle and Smith put Elon ahead, 12-8. The Phoenix led 21-17 late in the game before freshman Morgan Maner served for two aces to clinch the sweep.
“I think a really big difference tonight was Morgan’s serves,” Tendler said of Maner, who recorded 11 service points on the night. “She got on serving runs in what seemed like every set. It would be close, and then all of a sudden she’d get on a run and we’d have a five-point lead that we sustained to the end.”
Maner, Agae and Karle have all taken on huge roles as freshmen thus far this year, with all three starting at times and seeing significant playing time. These three, along with injured freshman setter Sydel Curry, add another layer of depth to the program.
“I think us as freshmen are coming in strong, but we’re also making our other teammates strong too,” Agae said. “We’re making our goal come together as one. Everyone’s coming out really nicely for us freshmen in the transition from high school to college.”
Agae led the Phoenix with 10 kills while Karle, Estes, Gravley and Smith each tallied eight. Estes added 21 assists while sophomore setter Ana Nicksic recorded 19. Maner finished with 11 digs.
Elon, 12-9 overall and 3-2 in the SoCon, will welcome Georgia Southern University to Alumni Gym on Saturday Oct. 12 at 4 p.m. The Phoenix fell in four sets to the Eagles on the road on Sept. 27, which was Elon’s first SoCon game of the season.