Pirates come up short against UConn in AAC opener

Published 2:33 pm Saturday, September 27, 2014

ECU Athletic Media Relations

GREENVILLE — The East Carolina volleyball team opened American Conference action with a 3-1 [24-26, 25-19, 19-25, 18-25] loss against UConn Friday night at Williams Arena inside Minges Coliseum. The Pirates fought hard, but fell to 6-3 (0-1 American) on the year, while the Huskies improve to 9-4 (2-0 American).

“We had a lot of energy and, of course, the crowd helped,” head coach Julie Torbett said. “There was a nice group of people that were here to support us. We really felt that energy in the gym. We were really excited to play the season opening match of the American Conference. I just felt like our outside hitters struggled a little bit. We rely on them a lot and they were struggling. UConn was doing a good job of containing them. So we needed to go to our middles and our middles did really well, but we can’t get the ball to the middle every time if we don’t pass well and dig well. The outsides tend to get more balls because of that.”

The Pirates played a solid match, as they hit .143 with 48 kills, 46 assists and 76 digs to go along with eight total team blocks. ECU was led offensively by a trio of double-figure scorers in junior middle blocker Kierra Lee-Dunson (13 kills), sophomore outside hitter Sydney Darden (11 kills) and sophomore middle blocker Ashley McRae (11 kills).

Lee-Dunson was on-point, leading East Carolina with a .462 attack percentage, while adding four digs and three block assists. Darden turned in her sixth double-double of the season, contributing 13 digs, while McRae turned in another steady showing with a .364 hitting percentage, posting three block assists and one dig.

Senior setter Zarah Cecich dished out 34 assists to go along with 15 digs for her second double-double of the season. She also registered three kills, two block assists and a service ace.

Junior libero Lauren Bewick paced the defense with a team-best 16 digs. Junior defensive specialist, Erika Figueroa, and freshman outside hitter, Ashton Mares, also contributed to the ECU defense with 10 digs apiece.

East Carolina and UConn battled each other through nine ties and four lead changes in the first set. The Huskies finished the set with 13 kills, while the Pirates knocked down 11. Down 21-24, ECU called a timeout to regroup and came back to even the score at 24-all on back-to-back kills from Darden. With the first set on the line, UConn took advantage of a pair of Pirate errors to claim the set, 26-24.

The second set was much like the first as the two teams traded leads several times. ECU used a .235 hitting percentage with 14 kills to control the offense. The Pirates broke an 18-18 tie with three consecutive kills from Darden and McRae to give East Carolina the momentum it needed to win the second set, 25-19, and go into the break tied 1-1.

“We made some adjustments,” Torbett explained. “We had to make a little bit more adjustments on the fly than you really want to when you have a good game plan going in. But we were able to settle down and do a good job.”

The battle continued into the third set, as the conference foes fought through another five ties and a pair of lead changes early on. UConn, however, hit an offensive stride and jumped out in front by four, (12-8) forcing an ECU timeout. The Huskies came back from the break in action and slammed 18 kills while hitting .378 to lead by as many as seven points on several occasions before closing out the frame, 25-19.

After three early ties in the fourth set, the Huskies went on an 8-2 run to make it an 11-5 game that the Pirates were unable to come back from. Down by 10 (19-9), East Carolina went on a 6-0 run as the Pirates began to mount a comeback, however, the Huskies halted ECU’s rally and went on to win the set, 25-18.

UConn hit .206 in the contest with 57 kills, 53 assists, 81 digs and 7.0 total team blocks. The Huskies were led by Immanuella Anagu’s match-high 14 kills, while Brianna Datti recorded a match-best 22 digs. Rebecca Rivera notched a double-double with 20 assists and 10 digs, while Sage Esposito dished out 24 assists.

East Carolina looks for its first American Conference victory Sunday, Sept. 28, when the Pirates host Temple at 1 p.m.