On Sept. 29, Western Carolina University’s women’s volleyball team played its first home conference game of the season. The Catamounts put up a valiant effort but fell to last year’s conference champions, Samford University, three sets to one.
The first set was heavily contested, with Samford staying just one step ahead of Western Carolina. Samford seemed to be closing out the set when they reached a score of 20-12, their largest lead of the night. The Catamounts fought back, however. With a timely kill by senior Jo-Leigh VerVelde, set up by sophomore Meagan Sanchez, the Catamounts began a run that eventually leveled the scores at 22-22. Even with this powerful run, Samford had built up too great of a lead to lose. Samford ended up taking the game 25-22.
Being so close to a valuable first point against an experienced Samford side, the Catamounts came out in the second game with intensity. The game was even until 6-6, when the Catamounts went on a 6-0 run. The run involved three service aces from VerVelde, meaning she served so well Samford could not return it. Western Carolina built on this lead and cruised to a 25-19 victory.
The teams each had one set going into the break, with Western Carolina matching Samford stride for stride. After the break was a different story. Samford leapt out to an early 11-5 lead. The Catamounts could not recover, losing the set 18-25.
Samford seemed to be in winning form when they took an early lead in the fourth set, 10-4. Catamount hopes were rekindled with back-to-back kills by senior Katie O’Connor. The set progressed into the 20s with neither side pulling away. The score leveled yet again at 22-22, and yet again Samford closed the set. The Catamounts fought off two match points in an intense ending, but Samford composed themselves and won the match.
This was a difficult defeat for the Catamounts to swallow, but they needed to focus on the next match on Sept. 30. This was also a conference match, against Mercer University.
This match was one of the longest in Western Carolina’s history, lasting an hour and 50 minutes, yet Mercer outlasted the Catamounts and took the match, 3-0.
Mercer began with an early 7-1 lead, but Western Carolina rallied back to finally take the lead at 18-17. The Catamounts had a chance to win the first set with a 25-24 lead, but through a service error, Mercer was given hope. With the score tied at 25, the end of this game was still nowhere in sight.
Through a series of rallies in which neither team could pull away by two, the set carried into the 30s and then beyond. 15 points beyond the necessary 25, Mercer secured the first victory 40-38.
The second set began where the first had left off, with neither team establishing a dominant lead. The Catamounts were hoping to not fall behind 2-0 after such an exhausting initial set, but they were met with extra points again. This set breezed by 25-25 just as the first had. Western Carolina had the chance to draw level on sets at 28-27, and again at 29-28, but failed to put the game away. Mercer took the second set with another incredible score of 33-31.
By the third and final set, Western Carolina was out of energy. Mercer jumped out to an early lead and never let up, claiming the match with the only set that did not run over, 25-18.
Western Carolina saw standout performances from seniors VerVelde and O’Connor, but they were not enough to topple conference opponents. With these two defeats, the Catamount record dropped to 6-11, and just 1-3 in conference play. Only a quarter of the way through the 16-game conference season, Western Carolina has shown resilience. The Catamounts are just looking to close out their games and string a few wins together by midseason.
For scheduling information, visit www.catamountsports.com.