EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – SIUE volleyball christened First Community Arena at the Vadalabene Center playing host to three other teams on the opening day of the 2019 SIUE Cougar Classic.
The Cougars dropped a hard-fought five-set decision (25-22, 22-25, 25-26, 22-25, 12-15) to Central Arkansas in the first home game of the season. It was only the second five-set match of the year for the Cougars, who are now 1-1 in those games. Central Arkansas improved to 4-1 in five-set affairs.
"We couldn't have asked for a better crowd," SIUE Head Coach Kendall Paulus said. "We owe a big thank you to those who came out. What a fantastic showing from our fellow student-athletes. The support we received will definitely help us bounce back tomorrow."
SIUE won sets one and three, before Central Arkansas came back to take the last two sets for the win. The Cougars 5-5 on the season. Central Arkansas is 6-6. Both teams will continue tournament play Saturday.
The Cougars used a strong net presence to counter Central Arkansas hitters Lexi Miller, Madi Bowles and Abbie Harry, who each finished with double-digit kill efforts. The Cougars were one shy of their season high, finishing with 24 blocks. Annie Ellis finished with a career-high nine blocks while Hope Everett tied her career high with eight blocks. Everett led SIUE offensively with a team-high 13 kills. She finished with a .357 attack percentage. Rachel McDonald turned in a double-double with 10 kills and 15 digs.
The turning point came in the fourth set with SIUE leading 17-13. Central Arkansas took a timeout which proved to be well-timed. After dropping the first point after the timeout, the Sugar Bears ripped off the next seven points and outscored the Cougars 12-5 to close out the set.
The third set also was a set of runs. SIUE got out to a 12-2 lead before Central Arkansas scored seven of the next eight points. The Cougars closed out the set winning eight of the last 11 points.
"I though we had a great night outside of those runs," Paulus said. "UCA served extremely well and it affected our offense."
SIUE hit .182 for the third set and .143 for the match. Central Arkansas' best set proved to be the fifth, when the Sugar Bears hit .211 for the set. UCA hit just .067 for the match.
SIUE will face Presbyterian Saturday morning at 11 a.m. and wrap up the tournament with Purdue Fort Wayne at 6 p.m.