The NC State volleyball team was shocked by the East Carolina Pirates 3-2 despite coming out with an initial two-set lead.
The Wolfpack (2-4) showed early dominance in the first two sets against ECU (5-1), winning each set by a score of 25-19. However, in the third and sequential sets, the Pack could not raise its competitive level to that of the Pirates.
“ECU came back to fight like they had a chip on their shoulder and we kind of stayed at the same level,” said redshirt junior middle blocker Jessica Kemp. “We got complacent and were waiting to see what they brought instead of attacking them from the start.”
The Wolfpack saw strong individual performances from a few key players. Junior opposite hitter Melissa Evans had 14 kills, Kemp had 11 kills, three blocks and eight digs, senior middle blocker Lauryn Terry led the defense with five blocks and freshman outside hitter Daniela McDonald had a strong early performance with eight kills.
“[Evans and Kemp are] doing a great job of trying to lead us but they can’t do it by themselves either,” said head coach Linda Hampton-Keith. “And I think that’s where we’re getting kind of stuck. One or two people can’t be the ones to carry us. This is a team sport, our strength is being able to rely on everyone to do their job and do it well.”
The third set went to overtime as NC State overcame two large deficits to pull the set close. The Wolfpack found itself on the verge of closing out the match twice.
When tied at 25, a service ace from senior defensive specialist Grace Irvin gave the Pack hopes to end the match in two points. The Pirates refused to give up and led 26-25 before NC State pulled back into the lead with a kill by Kemp. Despite the effort, the Wolfpack could not finish the Pirates, losing the set 29-27.
With the momentum and hope from the third set, the Pirates came into the fourth set energized. After the perseverance of the Pack in the third set, the fourth set saw NC State falter much earlier.
Up 21-20 over the Pirates, NC State looked like it was ready to close out the match. However, starting with a service error, the Pirates went on a 5-0 run to secure the fourth set and bring the total set count to two all, setting up the fifth and final set.
This set proved to be the heartbreaker for the Wolfpack, who failed to stem the tide of the Pirates wave. ECU stormed out of the gates to secure a quick 5-0 lead. NC State managed to collect themselves, closing the gap to 5-4 before the Pirates took off again. NC State held off against two ECU match-points before finally falling 15-10.
“It shifted because we were not very disciplined,” Hampton-Keith said. “We took our feet off the gas pedal and lo and behold if you do that against any team, they’re going to come back and drive right over you, which is what they did.”
The loss to ECU is compounded with the prior weekend losses that has set the Wolfpack on a four-game losing skid. The Wolfpack is a young team, with a lot of new faces, and is clearly missing their graduated veteran players. Multiple times the Pack found itself ahead only to allow ECU to either come back or rush ahead.
“Experience helps,” Kemp said. “The culture that we raise, we don’t have captains, hierarchies or anything like that. Everyone is free to speak their minds. I try to use my knowledge to bestow on others. I think just knowledge and travelling and just being in the ACC with going on my fourth year now helped build my confidence and calm my nerves.”
The Wolfpack will return to action Friday, Sept. 13 as they take part in the first game of the Appalachian State Invitational in Boone, NC against Western Carolina at 4 p.m.