Eagles win one but lose the AU Classic
Volleyball beats Loyola but falls to Michigan St.
After AU Volleyball dropped its first two games Saturday night against No. 15 Michigan State's watertight defense, the Eagles might as well have been left for dead, but they just refused to die.
The Eagles (3-8) staged a ferocious comeback in the last two games and fought off game point four times, but it was not enough to overcome the Spartans (8-2), who won the match 3-1 (30-19, 30-22, 34-36, 30-26). AU handled Loyola (1-13) in the first match of the day 3-0 (30-10, 30-23, 30-18) despite tenuous play that saw the Eagles hit only .139 in the second game.
Senior Karla Kucerkova led AU offensively versus the Spartans with 22 kills. Junior Natacha Cornaz was also key for the Eagles as she notched 12 kills and hit .435. Junior Jessica Tuthill, who was assaulted early by the explosive Spartan offense, had 12 digs.
Michigan St.'s defense was clearly the difference in the match. The Spartans rarely left an inch of their court open for the AU attack, which forced the Eagles to depend on all players for offensive contributions. They also combined for 78 digs and made few errors early, making points hard to come by for AU.
The first two games were forgettable for the Eagles, who were dominated across the board by the Spartans. After that, however, the tables began to turn.
The evenly played third game was sent into extra points when Kucerkova returned a Spartan serve for a kill, tying the game at 29-29. Michigan St. eventually broke out for a 34-33 lead, but AU stormed back for three straight points. Cornaz electrified the rowdy crowd when she hammered a kill to the far side. Sophomore Cutrina Biddulph nailed a block for game point, and Kucerkova made a spectacular kill to win the game 36-34. That score was the highest for AU since NCAA volleyball began the 30-point system in 2001.
AU seemed poised to pull a similar feat in the fourth game, but defensive lapses kept the Eagles down. Michigan St. took a 27-23 lead on a service ace past Tuthill. AU battled back to trail 27-26, but the Spartans regained their aggressive form to fly away with a 30-27 win to take the match.
AU coach Barry Goldberg regretted his team's defensive struggles late in the deciding match.
"At that time you have to play defense," Goldberg said. "You have to block, or you have to dig, or you can sit around [and] hope they miss, but you aren't going to win many matches."
The match capped a challenging four-week non-conference schedule against the nation's best teams. Goldberg said that Saturday's match was the best yet.
He added that if the Eagles keep playing the way they did Saturday, a victory over a ranked team could be within reach.
"Sooner or later we'll get one [of] these," Goldberg said. "You keep knocking and the door will open for you"