Sports, Fall, Volleyball

Eagles Hold off Georgia Tech After Blowing Two Set Lead

After an up-and-down non-conference slate, Boston College volleyball opened up conference play this weekend with a pair of road matchups against Clemson and Georgia Tech. The Eagles knocked off the Tigers in four closely-contested sets on Friday night, but Saturday’s matchup with the Yellow Jackets—just across the state line in Atlanta—proved to be even more back-and-forth.

BC took the first two sets, and it seemed that it would start 2-0 in conference play under head coach Jason Kennedy with relative ease. Georgia Tech responded by taking the next two, though, setting up a decisive fifth set. That’s when the Eagles’ outside hitter, Clare Naughton, took over. The junior, with her team protecting a slim 12-10 lead, registered three of the next four points, spiking home the match point for a 3-2 BC vistory.

A pair of service errors offset one another in the first two plays of the game, but both offenses quickly heated up. Trading points early in the first set, the Yellow Jackets (8-5, 1-1 Atlantic Coast) managed to pull away for a two-point cushion at the beginning of the frame. That was, until back-to-back kills from Cat Balido and an ace from Torey Baum put the Eagles (11-4, 2-0) back on top, 15-13, ahead of the media timeout. Georgia Tech mustered a quick response, as the teams took turns scoring before knotting things up at 29 apiece in extra points. A kill from Jill Strockis and pivotal blocks from Balido and Amaka Chukwujekwu tipped the score in the Eagles’ favor, though, as they took the first set, 31-29.

The second saw less back-and-forth action, as a service error from the Yellow Jackets’ Julia Bergmann hoisted the Eagles to an immediate lead, one they maintained throughout the remainder of the set. While BC was able to hold on to the advantage, it was hardly ever out of striking distance. After a Georgia Tech attack error and kills from Sophia West and Naughton handed BC its largest lead of the game, 11-7, going into the back half of the set, the Yellow Jackets went on a three-score run to cut it to two. The Eagles ultimately seized momentum with two quick kills of their own, courtesy of leading offenders Naughton and Chukwujekwu. Paired with another Georgia Tech service error, BC managed to cushion the lead at 21-18. A Yellow Jacket attack error gifted the Eagles another free point, upping the score to 22-18 and forcing a Georgia Tech timeout. The break proved no benefit, as the Yellow Jackets turned in another error-laden performance to hand BC the set, 25-21.

Tables turned in the latter half of the match, as Georgia Tech shook off its scoring woes and came out of the break ready to reclaim the game. Cleaning up their offensive strategy, the Yellow Jackets managed to keep BC at arm’s length throughout the third set, never conceding the lead. It was the Eagles’ turn to tally errors, as their ninth served the Yellow Jackets their match point, and Georgia Tech took the third set, 25-21.

This momentum leaked into the fourth frame, as the Yellow Jackets cruised past BC, 25-14, while boasting a .500 hitting average. Capitalizing off an attack error by Kaila Kaiser, Balido staked the Eagles to an early lead with a kill assisted by Jane DeJarld. Georgia Tech’s Mikaila Dowd and Julia Bergmann had a quick response, turning in two consecutive kills to nab a narrow 3-2 lead before Naughton struck again, knotting the score at 3-3. The rest of the set proceeded in kind, as the teams swapped points before the Yellow Jackets went on a six-point surge to gain an 18-12 advantage, the largest of the game. Jewel Strawberry fought back with one kill to lessen the blow, but Georgia Tech only continued to accumulate points after three consecutive kills from  Bergmann, Brambilla, and Dowd, forcing a BC timeout. The Yellow Jackets sent the Eagles reeling with another three-point surge off the break, ultimately sealing the fourth set by a decisive 25-14 margin.

Just when it seemed like BC’s momentum was taking a nose-dive, the Eagles came out to regain control of the match. Balido manhandled the Georgia Tech defense, tallying two kills inside the first five plays of the final set. Attack errors by Kodie Combie and Bergmann gave the Eagles some breathing room, as the 5-2 advantage forced Georgia Tech to an early timeout. The Yellow Jackets clawed their way to a 5-5 tie, but it proved just a tease. The Eagles answered with a three-point scoring run to pull away until a stealthy kill from Brambilla knotted the score once again, 9-9, but BC was prepared to finish the job. A score from Balido and two straight kills from Naughton put the game out of reach.

It seemed only natural that Naughton would throw down the game winning point—her 17th of the night—to top off one of her most impressive showings this season. By way of her talents, the Eagles took the final set, 15-11, and headed back to Chestnut Hill with two conference victories under their belts. 

Naughton’s takeover mirrored Strawberry’s against Clemson, and bodes well for Kennedy if he has multiple players that can control a match. While the weekend wasn’t always smooth, the Eagles still went down South and came away with two conference road victories—no small feat in the ever-difficult ACC.

Featured Image Courtesy of Brianna Foley / BC Athletics

September 30, 2019