BOGACZYK: Herd Volleyball Spikes to C-USA Lead
The Word on the Herd-Sept. 28, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - "Rebound" is a basketball term, but it really fits these days for Marshall's volleyball team.
After failing to win a set in three matches in the Sept. 19-20 Hokie Invitational at Virginia Tech, the Thundering Herd has opened Conference USA play with three consecutive victories - the first 3-0 league start for Coach Mitch Jacobs' team since 2009.
The latest triumph was a sweep past visiting FIU on Sunday afternoon at the Henderson Center, by scores of 25-17, 25-16 and 27-25.
After winning last week at Charlotte and then at home against Middle Tennessee, the Herd shares the C-USA standings lead with UTSA (7-7, 3-0).
"Virginia Tech was kind of an eye-opener for us; it was a big learning experience," said Marshall setter Sammie Bane, the lone senior among the 2014 Herd. "We just had a talk in pregame about how at Virginia Tech we were talking about, `What's going on; what do we have to do to get things on track?' And now, we've managed to come out and basically regroup and go 3-0 in conference. It's a really great feeling."
Now, the Herd (8-9, 3-0) leaves conference play ... but it's hardly a break.
On Wednesday, West Virginia (11-4, 1-1 Big 12) comes to "The Cam" for a 6 p.m. renewal of the "Battle for the Golden Ball" rivalry. Since 2002, has won 10 of 11 meetings in the series. No match was played in 2012.
Sunday's victory was Marshall's third 3-0 victory of the season - all on the home court. The others were against UIC and Morehead State, but those were before the losses at Virginia Tech.
"The biggest thing was we almost had a `Come to Jesus' meeting," said sophomore middle blocker Ally Kiekover, whose 14 kills matched classmate and outside hitter Cassie Weaver for the match-high Sunday. "We were sitting in the locker room and we all reflected on ourselves and said, `This isn't working.'
"What we were doing before wasn't working. Our energy was low, nothing was clicking, and we came together as a team and said honestly, there's only one path to take now. You either can be with us and strive to be good or you can just leave, you know?
`So, we kind of gave ourselves an ultimatum and that really just flipped our mindset so much, and we came out and said the only things were allowed to do is win and play well together."
Marshall needed to dig for resilience in the final set against the Panthers (3-12, 0-2), and Kiekover scored three straight points for a 20-18 Herd lead. Points by sophomore opposite Elyse Panick and Weaver broke a tie at 25 for the victory.
"I think a lot of it is just about working hard," said Panick, who had nine kills in the Sunday win. "We were losing so much, I think we finally realized we had to come out and work hard every single day ... We've been focusing on getting the ball inside the court, focusing on our serves a lot.
"It's more of our instincts, like what are we going to do when we have the ball and thinking about that. We'd been hitting the ball outside a lot ... our errors."
Kiekover had seven kills in the final set, and Panick added six. Freshman blocker Justice Craft came off the bench for three in the decisive set.
"One of our biggest struggles early in the season was erring a lot, just when you're getting a bad set, or the ball isn't where you need it to be to get a good attack," Kiekover said. "And we'd be hitting those balls out of bounds.
"So, we really put a mental focus on that, too. If we get a bad set, keep it in, give it to their setter, be smart. I think the majority of it for us is being smart with bad balls."
Bane is in her fourth Herd season, but this is the first time the all-conference setter is part of a team - and one with 11 freshmen and sophomores - that is off to a 3-0 C-USA start.
"Honestly, we haven't had much practice time," Bane said. "We've had midweek games (last Tuesday at Charlotte), traveling there, and so we haven't been in the gym that much. It's really been more figuring out how to play together and rely on one another more on the court.
"The difference between now and last season is we were battling a lot of injuries then, and (graduated) Laura Der was out with a concussion and we had a lot of changing lineups because of that. The plus was the ones who are sophomores now got a lot of playing time last year, so we're more experienced. It wouldn't say we're better ... we're further ahead."
Bane said the Herd is anxious for the "Golden Ball" date with WVU, but doesn't want to lose focus on the big picture.
"It's the rivalry; that's what sports are all about," the Marshall senior setter said. "It's a team you want to beat, for the Golden Ball, and we take it very seriously. Btu we've also got to be ready for North Texas next weekend (on the road Sunday). We're on a roll right now and we don't want to stop."
Kiekover said it was time for the Herd to find its footing, with only the top eight in the 13-team C-USA standings reaching the Nov. 21-23 single-elimination conference tournament in Hattiesburg, Miss.
"It was important to start playing like this coming off that weekend when we didn't play to our ability, or as we thought we should," Kiekover said. "And so coming into conference and flipping that switch and saying, `It's conference now, everything matters.' This is for us to get into the conference tournament; all these games add up at the end. To be 3-0 is a good confidence boost for us heading into later in the season."