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UB Volleyball Squanders Two-Set Lead in Friday Loss to Eastern Michigan

UB Volleyball returned home on Friday for a match against Eastern Michigan, who shared UB's 3-5 MAC record heading into the second half of the conference season and toward the eight-team playoff. UB could not close out the match even after enjoying a 2-0 lead and drops their fourth straight set to fall to 3-6 in the MAC.

Matt Gritzmacher

Through one set, it looked like a little home cooking had UB Volleyball clicking and ready to return to their September form.

In that first frame, the Bulls managed something I can't remember seeing since the Akron match: a mid-set comeback  ending in victory. After EMU's three-point lead persisted throughout the middle stages and grew to five at 20-15, coach Reed Sunahara called a timeout and got the best possible result: six straight points from the Bulls. And they came from everywhere: Amber Hatchett, Megan Lipski, Tahleia Bishop, Cassie Shado to force an EMU timeout. Bishop again and a shared block between her and Shado to take the lead. All in all, Bishop and Shado combined for seven of Buffalo's final eight points in the 25-23 win.

Through two sets, it looked like our cautious hope for this team after three straight losses to upper-echelon MAC competition was not misguided.

UB led the second half throughout, quickly finding themselves up 11-5 and quickly closing out the Eagles 25-18. Buffalo improved their hitting percentage over the first set, to .269, and held Ball State to a lower percentage than in the first set. Through two sets Tahleia Bishop looked like her old self with 11 kills, Amber Hatchett was strong in the middle, and freshman Cassie Shado continued to play well, in on a number of plays.

Most importantly, UB held a 2-0 advantage in the match and looked set to make quick work of the Eagles and earn a potentially critical tiebreaker advantage for MAC Tournament seeding.

The third set saw UB overcome small deficits to draw even with EMU at 18-18, 23-23, and 24-24, but Sunahara's timeout at 18-21 didn't create the same spark as in the first and EMU took the set 26-24 despite again hitting in the low-.100s. The fourth set was all EMU, as the Eagles jumped out to a 12-4 lead, weathered a scare from Buffalo as the Bulls got within 21-18, and then won four of the next five points to force a fifth set. The Eagles were aided in large part to UB's .000 hitting percentage on eight attack errors.

In the fifth set the Eagles never trailed - they in fact never trailed after getting to 13-13 in the third set - on their way to a 15-10 five point victory to finish off the come-from-behind win. While I do not want to overlook that it takes a degree of skill to take advantage of your opponent's errors, the fifth set was the first in which EMU played well themselves after playing below Buffalo's level for two sets, but managing to only lose close, eking out a win in an even third set, and capitalizing on copious errors in the fourth. Both teams minimized mistakes in that final set, but the visitors found a way to get a half-dozen more kills out of the same number of swings as their hosts.

Takeaways:

  • Tahleia Bishop seemed fully returned from her maybe-illness and definitely-ineffectiveness that's hampered her game over the last few weeks. She led all players with 23 kills and added in 13 digs and 4 blocks, both good for second on the Bulls.
  • Bishop, though, got little help from her other outside hitters. Megan Lipski, who is usually good for double-digit kills, only put up five on 31 swings, and Sable Staller just did not get enough opportunities en route to two kills.
  • A moment of focus on Staller: she leads the team in hitting percentage. Cassie Shado's is higher, but I'm still going to call small sample size on that for a little longer. If for no other reason than she is effective, Staller should be seeing the ball more. But any degree of effectiveness from Staller would keep the opposing defense from leaning to Bishop's side. It's unfortunate that Staller only got three swings tonight.
  • Akeila Lain had another of her more-errors-than-kills days, and though Amber Hatchett was effective with nine kills and four blocks, it was Shado who stood out among the middle blockers. On a night when few Bulls showed up for the full match, Shado had 12 kills on 23 swings while committed just three errors; easily the most efficient offensive performance on the team. She also had four blocks of her own.
  • Niki Bozinoski is no longer far-and-away leading the team in digs night in and night out, though she did tie for the team lead with 15. I promised I would pay attention to that, and then got into an intense conversation for much of the second half of the match. Hopefully tomorrow.
Coming into today there were four 3-5 teams in the MAC occupying the 6-9 positions in tournament seeding. Only the top eight gain berths in the tournament, and the loss, which drops UB to 3-6 and costs them a tiebreaker to a team near them in the standings, is big. On the basis of it being a potential seventh loss in league play, tomorrow's match against Central Michigan is not a must-win; UB missed out on the MAC tournament on a tiebreaker last year with a 6-10 conference record, but it would be a doubly negative loss - or doubly positive win - as the Chippewas are another of this cluster of teams around the seven- and eight-seed.

The match against Central Michigan will follow the football game and begin at 7:30 PM. Go Bulls!