Playing in Savage Arena for the first time in 2017, Toledo earned a three-game sweep over Southeastern Louisiana (25-14, 25-22, 29-27) to kick off the BG/UT Invitational this weekend. In the evening against VCU, the Rockets fell 3-1 (25-15, 23-25, 20-15, 14-25), splitting Friday's doubleheader.
Powering the Rocket offense was fourth-year outside hitter Saige Thomas (nine kills), fourth-year setter Brianna Foster (17 assists) and third-year libero Maurissa Leonard (19 digs, a match-high).
"Kudos to the team for stepping up in a time of adversity, especially when we were down 6-0 to start that third set," head coach Greg Smith said. "It was good to see the result we did. They stayed calm and that's all we could ask them to do. We just have to trust that we have what it takes in those situations to pull it out."
Toledo was in control in the first set, winning 25-14. With the score at 9-8, the Rockets rattled off nine straight points to take an 18-8 advantage. Thomas had a couple kills during the run, and first-year outside hitter Emma Swope wrapped things up with a couple kills to seal the first set.
Leonard fired in a pair of aces to set the tone in the second set, one that Toledo would win 25-21. Southeastern Louisiana kept it close, hanging within one or two points for much of the set and outhitting UT. The Lions tied it up at 17-17 but could not finish in the set.
Southeastern Louisiana dominated for much of the third set on Friday. Toledo trailed 6-0 early before fighting back and cutting the lead to 10-9. Another run from the Lions put them ahead 18-12, but the Rockets kept pushing. UT grabbed its first lead of the set at 25-24 after an attack error from Southeastern. Thomas and Foster each had huge kills to help put away the Lions. Toledo came away with a 29-27 victory in the third set.
Swope was the match leader in kills with 16, a new career-high for the first-year. Foster tallied 42 assists, one away from her career best. Leonard was the Rockets' leader in digs with 18.
"We did some nice things in the first set obviously," Smith said. "We were right there in the second set, we just didn't close out even though we had opportunities. The third and fourth sets, we kind of broke down mentally. That's what we need to continue to work on."
Toledo handled the first set as Swope registered six kills. UT never trailed, recording 10 of the final 14 points to cruise to a 1-0 lead in the match. First-year outside hitter Rhyen Neal had consecutive aces during a stretch where the Rockets had six straight points.
For the first time on Friday, the Rockets dropped a set. VCU tied the match up at 1-1, winning the second frame 25-23. The match was close, as neither team led by more than three until the Rams took a 21-17 lead with an 8-3 run. Toledo made it interesting, pulling within one, at 24-23, but they could not finish the deal. Swope once again led all corners in kills (five), and Leonard was the set leader in digs with nine.
The Rockets took an early 3-0 lead, but VCU went on to score nine of the next 11 points. In the end, the Rams came out on top 25-20. After hitting just .102, Toledo would improve to .265 in the third game.
Toledo found itself in an 8-0 hole early but cut that deficit in half to four. Some solid offense by the Rockets made the score 14-10. VCU upped its lead to eight once again by scoring four straight points, putting UT down 18-10 and eventually winning the game 25-14 to clinch the match.
Toledo fell 3-0 to Notre Dame on Saturday. The Rockets finished the weekend 1-2 and dropped to 2-4 overall after the loss to the Fighting Irish.
Swope tallied a team-high 30 kills over the course of the three games for UT, including a career-best 16 against VCU. Leonard also had a good weekend, averaging 5.7 digs per set. Foster stepped up big and had 93 assists for Toledo during the tournament.
"I was proud of the group that played tonight; I thought they did a lot of nice things," Smith said. "We got into a big hole, 8-0, in that first set, but we outplayed Notre Dame after that point in the set. I thought we did a lot of positive things, but we also saw things we need to work on. That's what we have to build upon, those positives, and continue to push forward."
The Rockets started off slow, as they trailed the Fighting Irish 14-3, with ND dominating early. They would get back in it though and come to within four, thanks in part to a couple big kills from first-year outside hitter Caleigh Barhorst.
After trailing by 11 to start the set, UT rattled off nine of the next 11 points to cut down the lead. Ultimately, Notre Dame would hang on to win the set 25-19.
The second frame was much closer, as UT and ND were as close as 16-14 at one point. The Fighting Irish pulled away to take a 2-0 lead in the match by a score of 25-19. Barhorst led the way with six hits, including consecutive kills that gave Toledo its first lead of the match (8-7).
Toledo took an early 3-1 lead, punctuated by a kill from Swope. The Fighting Irish regained the set advantage, and really pulled away from the Rockets by scoring nine consecutive points and taking a 17-7 lead. Eventually, the final score would come to 25-17, capping a Notre Dame victory. Foster was the only player on either team with at least 10 assists in the final set, while six different Rockets contributed kills to the cause.
Toledo will hit the road next weekend for the Thunder Invite in Huntington, West Virginia.