Nov. 4, 2012
NEW ORLEANS - Izabela Grot and Milica Jovic combined for 27 kills and fellow senior Lilly Wolfe tallied 12 assists, two aces and three digs as the Tulane University volleyball team celebrated Senior Day in style with a 3-0 win over Conference USA foe SMU on Sunday afternoon in the Hertz Center.
Tulane trailed late in all three sets but rallied on each occasion to come away with a 26-24, 25-22, 25-21 victory. The straight-sets win was the first for the Green Wave since posting a 3-0 decision over Southern Miss on Oct. 19, 2011. With the win, Tulane improves to 6-19 on the year and 4-10 in league play. SMU, meanwhile, fell to 9-17 overall and 6-8 in conference action.
"I think all three of them played good," Tulane head coach Sinisa Momic said of his seniors. "Mili and Izzy led us offensively and did a really good job. I'm glad we came up with a perfect score and a good performance by the seniors in their final game on the Tulane campus.
"We played well and we came out with the win at the end. I think we did a good job of coming back when we were behind in all three sets. We showed some stability because we didn't fall apart. We were steady, came back and put some pressure on them. We did a good job stopping (SMU's Caroline Young), a hitter that we knew was going to get set a lot. We had a lot of digs on her and converted when it mattered."
As a team, Tulane hit .246 with 47 kills and just 17 errors in 122 swings while holding SMU to a .183 clip (39-16-126). Tulane held advantages across the board on the stat sheet, tallying 47 kills to SMU's 39, posting 43 assists to the Mustangs' 36, recording 56 digs to the visitor's 46 and having 8.0 team blocks to the Dallas-based squad's 5.0.
Grot led the team with 14 kills, followed by Jovic with 13 and junior middle blocker Cori Martone with 11. Sophomore libero Grace Weaver was one of two Green Wave players to post double-digit dig totals, tallying a match-best 19 while junior outside hitter Milena Dragovic added 11. Junior setter Mel Mandelbaum had a team-best 24 assists, and Martone paced the front-line defense with five block assists.
"It feels great because when you play well and you lose in the end, it doesn't matter really," Momic said. "It happened so many times this year. There were all the tight sets and tight matches that we lost. There were seven or eight where we lost in five. At least we're on track to where the scores are working for us now in the end."
Tulane scored the first two points of the match, but that was hardly indicative of the way things would go the rest of the day. The two teams battled to 11 ties and the lead changed hands four times in the opening set alone. SMU held a commanding 21-17 lead and appeared on the verge of a win at 23-20. The Green Wave, however, rallied to take a 24-23 lead and after squandering one set point, got a kill from Grot to go ahead 25-24 before closing things out with a block by Martone and junior right-side hitter Azarri Badawi.
It was a similar story in the second set as SMU ran out to a 3-0 lead only to see Tulane rally back to tie the set at 8-all 13 serves later. The 8-8 deadlock was the first of 11 ties in the frame and the last came at 22-22 when Grot put a ball down to erase a 22-21 deficit. Grot added a second kill to put Tulane ahead by one, Martone and Jovic combined for a block to set up set point, and Martone clinched the three-point win with a kill to send the home team into the break with a 2-0 lead.
SMU appeared to shift the momentum of the match early in set No. 3 as the Mustangs raced out to a 5-1 lead and later held a 12-6 advantage which forced Tulane to call its second and final timeout of the frame. A tandem block by Badawi and sophomore middle Olivia Utt after the break sparked a 7-3 Green Wave run to tie things up at 15-all and Tulane trailed just twice the rest of the way. Following ties of 16-, 17- and 18-all, the Green Wave took the lead for good on an SMU blocking error and outscored the Mustangs 6-3 the rest of the way to complete the sweep.
Young was the lone SMU player to post double-digit kills with 13 and Susan Lewis did the same for the Mustang defense with 14 digs. Olivia Bailey led the team with a match-high 34 assists, and Cortney Manning headlined the SMU net defense with three block assists.
The Green Wave will close out the regular season next week with road matches at Marshall on Nov. 9 and at East Carolina on Nov. 11. With the top eight teams in the C-USA regular-season standings advancing to the championship tournament, Tulane will have to win out and get some help from opponents around the league to be eligible to compete for the postseason title.
"Our goal now is to prepare for the Marshall/East Carolina trip and come up with two wins," Momic added. "Who knows? We have a chance to make the tournament at the end. It'll depend on other people's scores as well, but that's our goal and that's all we can do."
The 2012 C-USA Volleyball Championship is slated to begin on Nov. 16 in Tulsa, Okla., and the winner of the Nov. 18 championship match will receive the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.