Volleyball earns dramatic win over Rice to open C-USA Championship play
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. -- The Southern Miss volleyball team never backs down.
One year after falling to Rice in the fifth set of the C-USA semifinals, the Golden Eagles got their revenge with a five-set win of their own on Friday afternoon inside Diddle Arena (20-25, 26-24, 19-25, 25-18, 15-10) during first-round action.
"I'm really proud of the fight of this team and the way they come back every time and find a way to make plays," head coach Amanda Berkley said. "This team was very resilient."
It was truly an arduous effort against the Owls, which came in with the league's best defensive hitting percentage. Kylie Grandy had a team-high 18 kills (on the heels of having 19 in the regular-season finale versus FIU), and senior Kelsey Chambers rose to the occasion with a career-high 16 to extend her collegiate career another day.
Southern Miss (20-11, 9-5 C-USA) never trailed in the fifth set and even had a 3-0 lead. The Owls had to call a timeout trailing 9-6, and senior Natalie Druhan upped the advantage to 11-8 on an ace. The Black and Gold more than kept their balance by responding with four consecutive kills (Grandy, Catherine Repsher, Chahndler Marshall, Chambers).
Coombs was again a model of efficiency, posting eight kills and a .353 hitting percentage. She ended her regular season with three out of four matches above .400.
"I'm very proud of Kylie and her production offensively and defensively," Berkley said. "Kelsey also did a great job offensively and being available. Sarah Bell also has done a great job running the offense and made great timely plays."
Bell, a first-team All-Conference setter, had six kills and no errors for an .833 hitting percentage to go with 52 assists.
Southern Miss was facing elimination in the fourth set with a 5-2 deficit. The squad ultimately forced two Rice timeouts, first with a Grandy ace and 8-7 lead, and secondly after an attack error made it 14-10. The Golden Eagles maintained the pressure with a 22-15 advantage on Bell's setter dump, en route to the 25-18 victory.
While the Owls (21-8, 11-3 C-USA) had succeeded all year on the defensive end, Southern Miss returned the favor by allowing a lesser hitting percentage in each of the first four sets (.423, .243, .222, .122).
Next up for the Golden Eagles is a Saturday matchup with No. 2 seed (and host) WKU at 1:30 p.m. CT. That action will again air on CUSA.tv.
-It was the third consecutive year Southern Miss and Rice squared off in the C-USA Tournament. The Golden Eagles won the 2015 meeting in San Antonio.
-Kylie Grandy's 15 digs were her most since 16 against Florida Atlantic on Oct. 22.
-The Golden Eagles recorded seven aces, their most since having eight in an Oct. 20 sweep of Middle Tennessee.
-Sarah Bell's 52 assists gives her 22 career outings of 50 or more.