The University of Toledo volleyball team opened their 2017 season last weekend at the Fort Wayne Invitational. The team took on Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Friday, Aug. 25 and faced Quinnipiac and Fort Wayne the following day.
In their bout against SIUE, the Rockets fell to the Cougars in a five-set thriller (25-21, 15-25, 29-31, 25-21, 11-15). Fourth-year outsider hitter Saige Thomas had a career night, as she recorded a personal record of 24 kills during the match.
"It was a tough first match, as we knew it would be from playing SIUE last year,” head coach Greg Smith told UTRockets after the match. “We did some really nice things tonight. But we need to learn to finish sets out, as we had leads in four of the five sets from the midway point and after."
UT was dominant on defense, recording 17 blocks compared to SIUE’s 10. Second-year Moe Birnbrich led the Rockets with nine of those blocks, with fourth-year middle hitter Rachel Vidourek putting up another seven.
On offense, Thomas led the Rockets with 24 kills, with Vidourek following behind her with 11 kills of her own. Third-year setter Carly Townsend almost ended the match with a double-double, putting up 52 assists and nine digs.
In the next match of the tournament, the Rockets took on Quinnipiac, a match UT won in five sets (23-25, 25-22, 25-13, 21-25, 15-10). The first two matches were back-and-forth the whole time, with Quinnipiac taking the first and UT edging out the second.
The third set saw the Rockets dominate the court, scoring 10 of the last 13 points to handily take the match. UT maintained this advantage into the fourth set, taking a 10-9 lead, but nine straight points for Quinnipiac set the stage for a fifth and final set.
In the fifth set UT returned to their dominant ways, defeating Quinnipiac 15-10, to record their first win of the 2017 season.
Toledo finished off the day taking on tournament host, Fort Wayne University. UT started strong, dominating the first set 25-14. In the first set the Rockets hit an amazing .440 with Birnbirch leading the pack with five kills. The final three sets were not as lopsided as the first, with Fort Wayne holding their own against the Rockets. UT dropped the last three sets by a combined margin of only eight points.
After the Mastodons had won two sets in a row, they had the chance to take the third and final with a win. Both teams fought hard, with neither team leading by more than four points throughout the final set. After trailing early the Rockets bounced back and recovered four straight points to regain the lead at 15-11. Fort Wayne rallied back and tied the match at 18. In the late stage of the set, the Mastodons put away three straight points to win the set 25-23 and the match 3-1.
Rocket volleyball will return to the court on Friday, Sept. 11, when they take on Southeastern Louisiana University at 11 a.m. in Savage Arena.