JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville University volleyball continued its incredible run in ASUN Conference action as the Dolphins defeated USC Upstate in exciting fashion, 3-2, Saturday evening at Historic Swisher Gymnasium to earn the #2 seed and a bye in the opening round of next week's ASUN Tournament. The Dolphins cap the regular season with an 18-9 overall record and a 12-2 mark against league opponents.
"I'm pumped that we could go out in Swisher Gym with a win for our five seniors," stated Head Coach Julie Darty. "They've meant more to me than I can put into words and ever express. At the beginning of the year, we talked a lot about defending our home court and the four matches we played in Swisher Gym, we were lights out on our home court. I'm proud of the effort that everybody put out there."
The sophomore duo of Alleah Stamatis and Mallory Mattingly led the Dolphins with double-double performances, as four separate Dolphins posted 10 or more kills and five recorded double-digit digs. Stamatis totaled 61 assists and 11 digs, while Mattingly added a team-high 19 kills and 17 digs.
After answering the Spartans in sets two and four, Jacksonville rallied back from two points down behind a 9-2 run to take the deciding set, 15-10.
After an injury in last night's match, the Dolphins quickly had to find a way to fill the role of starting sophomore Natalie Wehner. "There were some moments where we had to rise up and make some gritty defensive plays," Darty added. "It was really cool to see everybody rise up. With Natalie going down yesterday, I think that took a toll on us emotionally. There were a lot of emotions playing into this match as well, and I'm proud of the girls."
Staring down a seven-point deficit in the opening set, 21-14, Jacksonville came out of their timeout hot with a 7-2 run. Despite cutting their deficit to two, 23-21, the Dolphins were unable to stop the Spartans from taking the final two points as the visitors wound up taking the first set, 25-21.
Tied at five in the second game, Jacksonville darted ahead, 11-7, behind a combination of solid service at the line from senior Olga Nushtayeva and Stamatis, and three kills and a solo block from Mattingly. USC Upstate stayed on pace and came within one point on four different occasions; however, the Dolphins closed out the set on a 5-1 run – this time with a trio of kills from Nushtayeva – to even the match, 25-19.
Following the intermission, the visitors opened the third with a 10-5 advantage. The Dolphins closed the gap to two, 11-9, and used Mattingly's serves to their advantage on their next rotation to gain a 15-13 lead and force the Spartans to call a timeout. It was a battle from there as neither side allowed the other more than two consecutive points before a kill and a block from the Spartans in extra points gave USC Upstate its 26-24 advantage.
Back-to-back kills from senior Cristina Finan early in the fourth gave the Dolphins a one-point advantage, 6-5, and the momentum they needed to stay a step ahead of the Spartans. Jacksonville never trailed from that point, and extended its lead on a 7-2 run as sophomore Amarrah Cooks and Mattingly combined for five of the Dolphins' points during that stretch to give Jacksonville a 16-11 edge. USC Upstate threatened late in the set as a 5-1 run brought the visitors within one, 23-22, but Nushtayeva capped the set with a kill and a service ace to deadlock the match for the second time, 25-22.
The fifth set kept fans and players alike on the edge of the seats as the Dolphins found themselves behind once more, 7-5. Following a timeout called by Darty, Jacksonville found its will to win and rallied on a 9-2 streak to seal the match victory, 15-10.
The senior duo of Nushtayeva and Finan finished the match with 16 kills each. Nushtayeva hit a match-high .394 with three service aces and Finan added a career-high 29 digs. Senior Mackenzie Swan recorded a match-best 30 digs, while classmates Jessica Armstrong and Shelby Babowicz closed out their final match at Swisher with eight kills and three digs, respectively. Cooks added 10 kills and a match-high five blocks and freshman Kendall Murr chipped in 10 digs.
Double-doubles from Montana Swanson (15 kills, 18 digs) and Madison Haake (47 assists, 17 digs) led USC Upstate.
The Dolphins return to action next Friday, Nov. 17 when they take on either the #3 seed or #6 seed in the semifinal round of the ASUN Tournament at Lipscomb's Allen Arena in Nashville, Tenn. Jacksonville's match will begin at 8:30 pm EST and will be broadcast on ESPN3.