Eastern Michigan University fought off a late fourth-set push from the University of Toledo Rockets for its first Mid-American Conference win of the year at the Convocation Center. EMU defeated the Rockets (29-27, 17-25, 25-16, 25-23), to bounce back from its 3-0 loss to Ball State University the night before.
“I thought it was really important for our confidence,” EMU coach Kim Berrington said. “Last night [vs. BSU] we came out and really didn’t have the type of match we wanted. We didn’t have the fight that we wanted. It was really good to see the team respond today.”
The Eagles (11-6, 1-1 MAC) had a 15-11 lead vanish in the fourth set after four straight points by the Rockets. UT (7-8, 0-2 MAC) tied the set four times while taking the lead twice throughout the rest of the set but couldn’t complete the comeback.
After attacking at .157 through the first two sets, several upperclassmen stepped up to move the percentage to .223 for the match with 16 of 52 kills coming in the fourth set.
Among those upperclassmen were junior setter and outside hitter Jill Briner. She had her second-best offensive game of the season with 16 assists, nine kills and a .444 attack percentage.
Senior outside hitters Paige Roback and Erin Short led with efficiency, with Roback landing 11 kills and a .306 attack percentage and Short getting ten and hitting .273.
“Paige had no errors while Erin and Jill had one,” Berrington said. “That’s the steadiness that we need from those upperclassmen.”
The team also had ten total blocks, with six block assists coming from Short and another six from redshirt sophomore middle blocker Kelsey Jones who teamed up with Short a lot for a handful of blocks.
“Erin and Kelsey up there are huge on the left side,” Berrington said.
The Rockets had some offensive guns of their own in three of their seniors: outside hitter Lauren Rafdal, right side hitter Becca Reidy and middle blocker Dakota Harkins. Rafdal led with 17 kills on 58 attacks, the second-most attacks in a match she’s had this season. Harkins had 11 kills and a .194 attack percentage.
Reidy excelled on both sides of the ball for the Rockets, attacking .323 with 13 kills. She also served three aces and protected the floor with 12 digs.
The Eagles and Rockets went back and forth scoring early points in the first set, but a kill by Short began a 9-1 run for EMU. Rafdal touched a serve by sophomore outside-hitter Stacey Perinar that went out of bounds to give the Eagles the point and a 12-4 lead.
UT answered with a point tear of its own, taking 12 of the next 13 points to get a 16-13 lead.
EMU started regaining ground when Briner set up Short for a kill off of a hard swing from the right side of the net to the center of UT’s court, cutting the Rockets’ lead to 21-19.
The score would tie seven more times after that, but back-to-back ball handling errors by UT sophomore setter Alex Hines gave Eastern its 28th and 29th points for the 29-27 first set win. Hines had four ball handling errors, all in the first set.
“I think she just lost her composure a little bit,” Berrington said.
With the Rockets leading 16-11 in the second set, Rafdal was set for what was ruled a kill for a UT point, but appeared to land out of bounds.
“That ball was out. That wasn’t close. It was one that was out by a foot and it happened so fast, I just think the line judge didn’t see it,” Berrington said. “At that point in time, my team was working hard and I had to have their back.”
Berrington was given a yellow card for arguing the call.
“Usually when I get a card like that and get fired up, my team responds and gets fired up.”
The Rockets ended the second set with a kill by Reidy that she spiked from the right side of the net over to the left end for a 25-17 win to tie the match 1-1.
After dominating the third set 25-16, EMU trailed early in the fourth set despite sophomore libero Corynne Smith’s numerous diving efforts for digs. Perinar tied the set at eight by powering a kill by Reidy who was attempting a block.
Later in the set, the Eagles called a timeout with a 24-23 lead at match-point. The next serve led to a dig by Perinar which was followed by a set from sophomore setter Alyssa Davis to Short for a long range kill to take the match.