You can't win them all, as fun as it is. UB Volleyball's three-set victory over Akron on Thursday was an emotional boost for fans who were in the dark about injuries (or perhaps illness - it was that dark) to two of the Bulls stalwarts. In today's match, junior outside hitter Tahleia Bishop returned to the floor for the Bulls, but Buffalo couldn't solve Ball State, who leave Amherst today with a 25-23, 17-25, 25-23, 25-22 victory to move to 5-1 in the MAC. Buffalo falls to 3-3.
UB's first set looked more like last weekend than the team's most recent match, as the attack combined to hit just .047 in the set. Despite defending adequately and keeping things close for much of the set, Buffalo fell when the Cardinals were able to string together a late four-point run and claim a 24-22 lead. Ball State stat....
The second set was much better for UB, who hit a stellar .500 on their way to a 25-17 win in the frame. The Bulls quickly built an early lead and slowly ballooned it to as much as nine. Ball State was able to close a small bit, but it's rare for a 22-12 set to not be a fait accompli, and the Bulls were able to put away the Cardinals. Bishop was the driver for UB for much of the set, though Sable Staller, who had a very solid night overall, also notched a number of points.
The third set was markedly similar in its back-and-forth nature to the first, though both teams were much more fluid and efficient in their offense. The Bulls were unfortunately unable to capitalize on another strong offense set - they hit .361 during the third frame - as they allowed Ball State to hit over .400 themselves. This time, instead of the Ball State run coming late in the set to erase a Buffalo lead, the Cardinals turned a 13-13 tie into a 17-13 lead and maintained that four point advantage all the way to 'do or die' time for Buffalo, when the Bulls trailed 24-21.
Needing three consecutive points just to get out from the guillotine of set point, UB came close but dropped the set at 25-23. For the second time on the night they had fallen by the slimmest possible margin.
Of course, UB's backs were really against the wall in the fourth set, needing a win to extend the match. Buffalo used contributions from everyone on the floor to build a 12-9 lead, and then to re-build the lead at 20-16 after Ball State chipped it away.
After that, however, was the worst case scenario for Buffalo. Through two Reed Sunahara timeouts Ball State ran off six consecutive and seven of eight points for a critical 22-20 lead. Thanks to Sable Staller and a Cardinal error, Buffalo was able to get within one, but Amber Hatchett was stuffed at the net before Ball State retook the serve and finished off the match.
On the night, UB had three players with double digit kills in Megan Lipski (13), Bishop (11), and Hatchett (11) and three with double digit digs in Lipski (19), Niki Bozinoski (13), and Staller (10). Megan Lin was particularly effective in her setter role with 47 assists, and no one on the team had a negative hitting percentage.
Bozinoski, though only a freshman, has established herself quickly in the lineup this year as libero, and generally leads the team in digs. Tonight, though, she was relatively quiet, as Lipski led the team in digs and Ball State was effective in their attack throughout. I found the UB-provided stream particularly jumpy and was not able to focus much on Bozinoski, though I'm not sure how much I would have been able to glean anyway.
As mentioned, Tahleia Bishop returned for the Bulls after missing the last three matches for reasons undisclosed by the program. I'm willing to attribute some credence, however, to the report in the Athens Post that suggested the junior was suffering from the flu. Bishop, who normally plays every point regardless of her spot in the rotation, was subbed out frequently from the backline throughout the whole match.
UB was not as strong in attack tonight as against Akron, but they had one stellar set, a strong set, a below-average set, and a bad set. Unfortunately, their above-average hitting in the third set went for naught as BSU hit even better, and the Bulls did not capitalize on the tight margins late in the first and fourth sets despite not hitting as well as the Cardinals. In the end, it was a fair result based on the teams' play tonight, but I can't help but think that UB was not very many bounces away from forcing a fifth set or even claiming the match in four themselves.
The Bulls are done for the weekend, and will next play in six days on Friday the 17th when they travel to Kalamazoo for a match against Western Michigan at 7:00 PM. Between now and then, of course, I'll have the Weekend Roundup videocast tomorrow night and the Volleyball Roundup on Wednesday.