Athens, Tenn. – The Bryan College Volleyball team put their slow start to the season behind them Thursday night at Tennessee Wesleyan when the Lions matched up with the Bulldogs in their first Appalachian Athletic Conference action of the year. Tennessee Wesleyan was the first to strike with a 25-19 first set and looked to go ahead 2-0 in the match as the second set came to a close, but Bryan prevailed in comeback fashion to level the score 1-1 after taking the second set 27-25. The Lions fell behind late in the third but clawed their way back into the game and nabbed the set 25-23 before sending the Bulldogs to the doghouse with a final set score 25-21 for the 3-1 victory.
The win improves Bryan's conference record to 1-0 and overall record to 2-8 while Tennessee Wesleyan dropped to 0-1 in the AAC and 3-7 on the year.
Veronica Salas (JR/Guaynabo, Puerto Rico) helped the Lions to a quick 2-0 advantage as the first set got underway with back-to-back aces. A kill by the Bulldogs and attack error by Bryan evened the score 2-2, but the Lions responded with a 6-0 run to go ahead 8-2. Sidney Pierce (FR/Chickamauga, Ga.) assisted Jessica Towe (FR/Cleveland, Tenn.) for a kill, separating Bryan from Tennessee Wesleyan 10-3. Unfortunately, that would be the largest lead the Lions would have against the Bulldogs in the first set as Tennessee Wesleyan marched their way back to 14-10, then 15-13, and eventually tying the set 17-17. An ace followed by a pair of kills was enough for the Bulldogs to secure an edge and fend off the Lions for a 25-19 win in the opening frame.
Nine ties occurred in the second set as both sides battled back and forth for control of the lead. At 14-14, Tennessee Wesleyan rallied for a 6-1 run to jump ahead 20-15. The deficit didn't distract Bryan, as they remained poised and slowly chipped away at the difference. The first point for the Lions happened when Mariah Dunlop (JR/Bradenton, Fla. ) set up Kristen Parrish (SR/Decatur, Ala.) for the kill. An attack error by the Bulldogs trailed by a kill from Emalie Hicks (SO/Calhoun, Ga.) raised the score to 22-18. Tennessee Wesleyan countered with a score but Bryan stayed on track and a kill by Dunlop, attack error by the Bulldogs, kills by Hicks, ace served up by Dunlop, and two consecutive attack errors by Tennessee Wesleyan helped Bryan regain the lead 24-23. The Bulldogs answered and were able to tie the score 24-24 and 25-25, but a kill from Hicks and another attack error stunned the home team as the Lions sealed the second set 27-25.
The Bulldogs were far from letting the Lions stroll away with the win as another nine ties came during the third set, showing the tenacity of each side. An ace and kill by Tennessee Wesleyan late in the frame put them out in front 20-18. The Bulldogs were trying to close the set with a 22-20 edge over the Lions, but Bryan's Hope Burnett (SR/Asheville, N.C.) swatted a kill and pressure that resulted in another attack error by Tennessee Wesleyan made the score an even 22-22. The Bulldogs came back with a kill for a 23-22 lead, but that would be the last score for Tennessee Wesleyan as the Lions took advantage of two attack errors and Hicks added another kill to her total, giving Bryan the set 25-23 and a 2-1 lead in the match.
Tied 6-6 in the fourth and final set, Bryan pieced together three unanswered points for a 9-6 advantage and never looked back. The largest lead in the set by the Lions was a mere six points, but they never surrendered it back over to the Bulldogs as Bryan outperformed Tennessee Wesleyan 25-21 for a 3-1 win.
Hicks shined in the victory as she matched a season-high 11 kills to help lead the Lions. Dunlop, Burnett, and Stowell all followed with eight kills, respectively. Burnett had a notable attack percentage of .300, helping the team finish with a .179 compared to Tennessee Wesleyan's .174. The Bulldogs outhit the Lions 56-46, but Bryan won the block count 6-3 with support from Dunlop's two solo blocks and one block assist. The Lion's assists leader was Salas with 15 followed closely by Pierce with 11. Parrish notched a team-best 18 digs, while Rheagan Kean (FR/Chattanooga, Tenn.) also compiled double-digit digs with 11.
The Lions entered the contest coming off the Southeastern Challenge, which was a two-day event featuring talented teams from across the Southeast, including many top-ranked programs. After a challenging beginning to the year, Bryan looks to build off the momentum in the conference opener.
"I'm extremely proud of the way these young women played tonight," said Bryan Head Coach, Jessica Day. "They really showcased their talent after coming off a hard weekend on the road. We're always striving to get better, and tonight we did. We are a young team, but tonight we played like veteran volleyball players.
Up next for Bryan is their BLACKOUT NIGHT, taking place Friday, Sept. 8 for their home opener against the University of Cumberlands Patriots (Ky.). Start time is slated for 7pm. And make sure to wear BLACK!
To view the full 2017 volleyball schedule, click here.