Wednesday, August 31 a 16-kill performance from junior Rachel Iaquaniello led the Eastern Michigan University Volleyball team to a 3-0 (27-25, 25-15, 26-24) sweep of Oakland University in the Eagles’ 2011 home opener.
With the win, the Eagles advance to 3-1 on the season while the Grizzlies fall to 2-2.
Iaquaniello added seven digs to her 16 kills for a near double-double while senior Kristen Baker followed behind with nine kills and sophomore Paige Roback added seven for the Eagles. Senior setter Ashley Mason had a match-high 33 assists, adding ten digs and six kills.
Defensively, the Eagles were led by senior libero Haley Stein as she recorded 24 digs on the night. Sophomore outside hitter, Erin Short, also pitched in with 13 digs, a product of diligent work during the off season.
“Defense is one of the things that I’ve been working on, just trying to be a better all-around player,” Short said. “It’s a goal I set for myself because I know that in the end it will help the team as a whole.”
Both the Eagles and the Golden Grizzlies got off to a slow start in the opening set. There were multiple service and attack errors as the teams tried to work through the nerves of the home opener as well as develop their chemistry on the court.
“It was just what coach calls ‘first-game jitters,’” Short said. “Everyone was really excited about playing at home in front of their family and friends.”
“There were some first-game nerves,” freshman Megan Crawshaw added. “Everyone was excited about playing at home, but now we can leave that behind and focus on what’s ahead.”
The teams battled out the first few points of the second set before the Eagles were able to break away. A kill from Short sparked the Eagles’ offense as they took a quick 10-4 lead.
From that point on, the Grizzlies stayed six or more points away from the Eagles. Much of that spark can be credited to Iaquaniello’s ten kills in the second set, along with five more from Baker.
“We got to a point where everyone buckled down and said nothing hits the floor,” Iaquaniello said. “We got back to playing ‘Eagle Volleyball’ which consists of taking care of each ball and going all out on every play.”
In the third set the Eagles took the first strike with a kill from Baker and got off to a 10-7 lead before the Grizzlies began to fight back. A kill by OU middle hitter Jenna Lange got the Grizzlies off to a 7-0 run bringing them to a 17-14 lead over EMU.
Two kills by Baker brought the Eagles and Grizzlies to a 19 point tie. OU was the first to reach 24 points after a service error by Iaquaniello, but a service error by OU’s Meghan Bray gave the Eagles the ball and tied the game at 24 points a piece. On the following plays, kills from Baker and Roback sealed the 26-24 victory for EMU.
For Short, sticking together and playing as a team was what enabled the Eagles to pull away with the win.
“We stuck together and that helped us get our fire back,” she said. “We were also passing very well which helped us run our offense.”
Two of the Eagles’ freshmen played significant minutes in Wednesday’s home opener, those players being Crawshaw and Natalie Folk. Looking ahead, the Eagles are excited and accepting of their freshman.
“They can definitely make a big contribution,” Iaquaniello said of her younger teammates. “They had a lot to learn this off season and they all learned it very fast. Everyone has that one thing that they are really good at. If they can capitalize on those things they’ll be able to come in with what we need when we need it.”
“The freshmen fit well with the team, they bring a lot of energy,” Short said. “Two of them are fighting for the starting middle blocker position and whoever can do the job the best, I’ll be glad to play with them.”
The Eagles will now prepare to hit the road for the first match of a month-long road trip. On Saturday, September 3rd the Eagles will take on Marshall in the first game of the IUPUI Tournament.