Sept. 30, 2012
NEW ORLEANS - Positive change can come in many forms. Sometimes it's a change in attitude. Other times it could be a change in the way things are done. For the Tulane University volleyball team, positive change came in a jersey color as the Green Wave rallied for a 2-1 deficit to defeat Conference USA foe UAB, 3-2, on Sunday afternoon in the Hertz Center.
Junior Azarri Badawi opened the match wearing the off-colored libero jersey, but was replaced by fellow junior Milena Dragovic late in the opening set that saw UAB roll to a 25-14 win. The Green Wave won the second frame, 25-14, and appeared to be on the ropes after dropping the third set, 25-19, and trailing by four at 16-12 in the later stages of set four.
Badawi, who switched into a regular jersey after sitting out the second and third sets, returned to the lineup as an outside hitter in the fourth frame and sparked a comeback with four kills down the stretch to help Tulane knot the match with a 25-23 victory. The Wave scored the first three points of the fifth-and-final set, and never looked back en route to a 15-10 win.
"Azarri stepped up to play a position she hasn't played (since last season)," Tulane head volleyball coach Sinisa Momic said. "She's working very hard at it every day. She has bad days and she has good days. But as she proved today, she can turn a bad match into a good match and decide the win. I really think she's worked harder in practice now than she ever has, and it paid off today."
With the win, Tulane snapped a four-game losing streak to improve to 4-12 on the year and 2-3 in C-USA play. UAB, meanwhile, dropped its third straight match to fall to 7-11 overall and 1-3 in league action.
Senior right-side hitter Milica Jovic led three Green Wave players with double-digit kill totals with 15. Sophomore middle blocker Anna Wruck was next with 11 while senior right-side Izabela Grot, junior outside hitter Cori Martone and sophomore outside hitter Grace Weaver added 10 each.
Junior Mel Mandelbaum and Lilly Wolfe shared setting duties and finished with 28 and 27 assists, respectively, while Weaver, Mandelbaum, Martone and Wolfe posted double-doubles with respective dig totals of 24, 16, 14 and 10. Weaver's dig total led the team while Dragovic had 20. Sophomore middle blocker Olivia Utt led the front-line defense with five block assists.
As a team, Tulane hit .205 for the match with 71 kills and 31 errors in 195 swings. Defensively, the Green Wave held UAB to a .158 clip (47-18-183), including a combined .133 showing over the final four sets (36-16-150).
"We found a way, but the most important thing is we stopped making unforced errors - mostly things like hitting the ball into the block or hitting it out," Momic said. "Even if we didn't score, we tried to work the ball around the block and make the defense dig us if they can. Azarri was a good example in game four. She kept pushing the ball deep or on top of the block. Whatever. Just as long as you don't make a mistake. That was the difference.
"We didn't make those two or four or five errors, and we stopped UAB mostly from the right pin. We got momentum into game five, we didn't start game five with unforced errors. We got an early lead and kept it until the end."
While Tulane was all smiles at the end of the day, it was anything but early on as UAB scored the first five points of the contest and rolled to an 11-point win. The two teams traded the first 20 points of the second set, but the Green Wave used a 4-0 run to break a 10-10 tie and deadlocked the match at one set each with an 11-point win of their own.
Whatever momentum Tulane had built in the second set was quickly dissolved after the intermission as UAB jumped out to an 8-2 lead in set No. 3. The Green Wave battled back to tie the match at 19-all only to see the Blazers rattle off six straight points to end the frame.
It was a similar story early in the fourth set as UAB and Tulane sat tied at 7-all 14 serves in. UAB appeared to take control of the frame with a 7-3 run to take a 14-10 lead, but the Green Wave refused to go away. With Badawi back on the court as a front-row player, Tulane tied the match at 18-18 and went ahead by one courtesy of her first kill of the day. UAB retied the contest with a Sam Serley kill, but Badawi answered with three straight kills to give the Wave a 22-19 lead they would not relinquish.
The final set was all Tulane as the Green Wave sandwiched kills by Jovic and Utt around a UAB error to take a 3-0 lead. UAB cut the deficit to one at 8-7, but Tulane got kills by Grot and Jovic to create some breathing room and scored the five of the match's final seven points to emerge victorious.
"When they took me out, I felt that I knew that I was struggling," Badawi said. "I saw Milena step up and I was excited to see her come in and do that. To go back in as an outside, I was shocked. I haven't jumped in a month and a half since I started playing libero. To get back into the groove was nice.
"It was like a different team today. It was fun. The word in the locker room right now is fun. That was a game that we were focused and we were into it, but we were having fun. We weren't worried about making mistakes or losing. We just wanted to win and work with each other. It was such a different mindset than even the first two games to come out and work like that for the last two."
The Green Wave return to action on Friday, Oct. 5, when they travel to Texas to take on Houston. From there, Tulane will play at Rice on Oct. 10, at SMU on Oct. 12 and at Tulsa on Oct. 14 before returning home on Oct. 19 when they Wave play host to Rice at 7 p.m. in the Hertz Center.
Tickets Tulane volleyball matches and future Green Wave events are currently for sale through the Tulane Athletics Ticket Office. The Ticket Office is located on the first floor of the Wilson Center on Ben Weiner Drive, and tickets can be purchased in person, over the phone at 504-861-WAVE (9283) or via the Internet at www.TulaneGreenWave.com.