MOREHEAD, Ky. — Southern Illinois University Edwardsville reeled off a season-high 12 service aces and eliminated the second seed at the Ohio Valley Conference Volleyball Championships Thursday with a 25-16, 25-20, 19-25, 25-21 victory over Belmont.
The Cougars, now 13-17, advanced to the semifinals of the OVC Tournament in their first appearance and will next face sixth-seeded Eastern Kentucky at 3:30 p.m. CST Friday at Wetherby Gym.
"We talked about how this was the best passing team (Belmont) in the league," said SIUE coach Leah Johnson. "We had to serve them out of system otherwise their middles and right side would dominate. They're that good. I thought we did a nice job of serving."
Haley Norris nearly served out the match when the Cougars were tied 20-20 in the fourth set. After an attack error by Belmont, Norris picked up a pair of service aces to put SIUE ahead 23-20. Cori Harris added to lead with her ninth kill of the match to make the score 24-20. After a missed serve by Norris, Kelsey Augustine put away match point with her team-best 14th kill of the match.
Norris, Cori Harris, and Chelsea Colclasure each had three service aces.
SIUE's offense played with passion from the opening whistle.
Augustine, a senior, hit .481 for the match with just one attack error. Fellow middle hitter Kristen Torre hit .346 for the match and added 12 kills. SIUE edged Belmont, which ended its season 19-14, in both kills (51-50) and hitting percentage (.258-.257).
"It was one of our most efficient offensive matches against a top team," said Johnson. "We played scrappy defense and made a lot of heads-up plays."
The Cougars raced out to a 6-2 lead in the opening set and didn't allow the Bruins to come within two points after that. Ahead 12-10 in the first set, SIUE used a 12-3 run to put the set away.
The second set was much closer as the two teams exchanged leads four times and tied 13 times. The Cougars would win it at crunch time by collecting the final four points of the set behind kills from Torre, Augistine and Taylor Held.
Belmont's Alex Martin, who did not take a swing in the first set, led her team back into the match with seven of her match-high 15 kills in the third set. A reversed call with SIUE ahead 14-12 set the tone for the set as the Bruins finished with a 13-5 flurry to cut the lead to 2-1.
"I was worried because Martin got hot. She came out of nowhere in set two," Johnson said.
SIUE found itself down by five points at 17-12 but made a 6-1 run to tie up the match 18-18. Torre served five straight points, and Augustine recorded three straight kills during the run.
After the match was tied for a sixth time in the fourth set 20-20, SIUE reeled off five of the final six points.
"I was pleased with our overall commitment to our game plan," said Johnson.
The match highlighted two players who earned top honors from the OVC Wednesday night.
Belmont's Allison McCoy, who had 10 kills, was named the OVC Player of the Year. SIUE's Mallory Mangun, with 42 assists, was named the OVC Freshman of the Year. Mangun outdueled Belmont setter Hannah Miranda who was named to the All-Conference team.
NOTES: It was the first time this season SIUE has lost the third set and won the match. ... SIUE has recorded more digs than its opponents in all 13 wins this season. ... the Cougars' 12 service aces is the most by the team since coach Johnson's first season when SIUE collected 12 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on the opening weekend. ... SIUE improved to 6-1 this season against Eastern Division teams. The Cougars previously defeated Eastern Kentucky in five sets on the road (Oct. 11) six days after defeating Belmont (Oct. 5). ... SIUE held Belmont All-Conference pick Jen Myer to just five kills Thursday. ... EKU, a No. 6 seed, defeated the No. 3 seed Eastern Illinois in five sets to move into the OVC Tournament semifinals. "While Belmont is playing some of the best volleyball they have been played, Eastern Kentucky is too," said Johnson. "Their win against Eastern Illinois was impressive."