A relatively unknown opponent and the preseason Player of the Year met the Elon University volleyball team in its first Colonial Athletic Association match ever.
That unfamiliarity proved to provide some excitement and close competition early, but senior outside hitter Kelsie Wills hammered home 23 kills to power Hofstra University to a 3-1 (25-21, 25-18, 19-25, 25-21) victory over Elon Sept. 26 at Alumni Gym.
It marked the first time in school history that the teams met in any sport. At the same time at Rudd Field, the women’s soccer teams played. All Elon knew about the Pride came from a 45-minute film session earlier this week.
“We can watch as much film as we want but we have absolutely no idea how they’re going to play, which is exciting I think,” Elon junior outside hitter Megan Gravley said. “We can go into each [CAA] match not knowing what to expect.”
Wills has been an All-CAA player each of the past two seasons and already has more than 200 kills on the season while leading Hofstra to a 13-2 record. She hit at a .370 clip (23 kills, six errors in 46 attempts).
“We tried everything to slow down especially [Wills], and didn’t really find anything that worked,” Elon head coach Mary Tendler said. “You have to respect that. It’s nice going up against the best player in the first match of the CAA because we know what to expect as we go against everybody else.”
Hofstra’s offense ran through Wills on the outside and senior right side Nuria Lopes da Silva, who were supplied with some tall sets to the sides from sophomore setter Hannah Klemm. Hofstra hit .255 as a team (60 kills, 24 errors in 141 attempts) and did not trail in the first set and only going down once — 2-1 — in the second set.
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The Pride started the match on a 5-1 run thanks to three kills from Lopes da Silva. The lead grew to as many as eight before a late run by Elon, sparked by back-to-back kills from senior middle blocker Kris Harris, cut the deficit to two at 23-21. But Wills recorded a kill and Klemm and senior middle blocker Adama Aja teamed up for a block to seal the set.
Elon stayed closer at the start of the second, leading at 2-1 and tying it up at 8-8 before Hofstra went on a 10-2 run which included two straight aces from Wills. The Pride stayed on the gas despite kills from Gravley, junior middle blocker Catherine Head and senior outside hitter Chanelle Smith down the stretch.
The break proved to be beneficial for Elon, which took a 7-4 lead out of the gates in the third set to force a Hofstra timeout. The Phoenix led by as much as six before Wills pioneered a Hofstra rally which cut the deficit to 19-15. But a kill from Harris and aces from Gravley and Head propelled Elon.
Elon held early leads of two in the fourth before Wills caught her hot stretch in the middle of the set. She tallied eight kills in the fourth set, including a run of four kills in six points at one juncture to pull Hofstra ahead.
“Their sets were great and their outsides were really strong,” Gravley said. “We did a great job of getting in front of them, but a little less at the end.”
SERVICE POINTS: … Gravley led Elon with 16 kills in her first match back after missing the last seven because of a foot injury. … Wills broke Hofstra’s all-time kills record, bringing her career total to 1,657. She took home a game ball from Alumni Gym. … After playing with just seven players on Tuesday at North Carolina Central University, Elon had both Gravley and Head back from injury. Four players — setters Ana Nicksic and Sydel Curry and outside hitters Danielle Smith and Kayla Agae — did not play. … Elon outblocked Hofstra 5.0-4.5 after only recording one block in the first two sets. … The Phoenix is back at home at 2 p.m. Sunday to host Northeastern University.