JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - The Western Carolina volleyball team opened up Southern Conference play on the road Tuesday night at mountain rival ETSU. The Buccaneers and Catamounts played a close match with ETSU edging WCU 3-1. Three Catamounts reached double-figures in kills while sophomore Aleah Keaton had a career-high 10 blocks to lead the defensive effort.
The Catamounts as a team had 11 blocks in the match with Keaton having a hand in all but one. She picked up a pair of solo stops while assisting on eight other put backs. The second-year standout nearly had a double-double as she put down eight kills as well with no errors on 17 attacks. Freshman MaKenzie White also tied a career-high in blocks on Tuesday as she picked up five block assists in the match. The rookie also tied her career high in kills with nine in her first ever SoCon match.
The three offensive leaders for WCU were freshman Gabby Gray, senior Katie O’Connor and sophomore Abigail Veit. Gray had a team-high 12 kills while digging up 14 balls to complete her second career double-double. O’Connor chipped in 11 kills and a solo block while Veit had 10 kills and six digs.
ETSU had four hitters reach double-figures in kills including a pair who eclipsed the 20-kill mark. Leah Clayton had a match-high 21 kills while Rylee Milhorn added 20 kills and 10 digs.
Both teams had similar attack percentages with WCU finishing at .231 and ETSU coming in at .238. The Bucs out-dug the Catamounts by nearly 20 (74-56) but lost the blocking battle 11 to five.
The first set was highly contested with neither team taking more than a three point lead throughout the entire period. With ETSU leading 21-18, the Catamounts used a timeout which set-up a 5-1 run powered by a pair of kills from Gray and a block from Keaton and White. ETSU then called two timeouts nearly back-to-back and responded with a 4-1 run of its own to take the set 26-24. The set ended with back-to-back kills followed by an ETSU service ace.
ETSU jumped out to an 8-4 lead in the second set and held the advantage the rest of the way as the Catamounts tried to fight their way back in. The Bucs would eventually win the set 25-21. The third set was back-and-forth early but WCU took the lead midway through the period and hung onto it until ETSU tied it up at 20-20. The set would be tied at 21, 22 and 23 points before WCU closed out the set with a ETSU service error followed by a Gray kill to win 25-23.
The fourth saw WCU take the lead midway through but ETSU battled back late and overtook the Catamounts for a decisive 25-21 victory.
The loss drops WCU to 5-9 on the season and 0-1 in SoCon play while ETSU improved to 5-7 overall and 1-0 in league action.
The Catamounts will return to action this Friday as they travel to Chattanooga to battle the Mocs at 6 pm. The Mocs are 7-7 this season and Friday’s match will mark their first SoCon match of the year.