Pacers get 1st PBC win in 5-set thriller

·4 min read

Sep. 17—USC AIKEN 3, LANDER 2

There were chances Saturday afternoon for a tough start to the Peach Belt Conference schedule to get even tougher for the USC Aiken volleyball team.

A hot second set for Lander tied the match at a set apiece, and the Bearcats forced a deciding fifth set by finishing off the fourth with a 10-3 run.

The Pacers responded in the fifth set, though, taking the best-of-15 sprint to finish off a 29-27, 17-25, 25-23, 21-25, 15-8 victory that is their first of the season in PBC play.

"Lander's been on a real hot streak," said USCA head coach Glenn Cox. "They just took out Flagler two games in a row and they were able to get us the other night. We came off a really bad road loss (Tuesday at Georgia College), played sloppy. To bounce back and kind of get back to playing clean, the resilience and just to stay focused and not get rattled, it's good to see. We made some mental steps today to being a championship team. It was fun to see."

The Pacers (10-4, 1-2 PBC) were slumping a bit to begin PBC play, dropping a three-set sweep in front of a hostile Georgia College crowd and then falling in four Friday night to Lander in which Bearcats freshman outside hitter Katie Miller erupted for 21 kills.

Limiting her production was a point of emphasis Saturday, and the Pacers did that — she had 19 kills but also had 11 attack errors for a .119 hitting percentage.

"Just serving tough. We got in a little groove passing. When we're in system, we're hard to beat," Cox said. "That was the key. Really, the goal was to slow down (Miller) today, and we were able to do that today. She had more kills yesterday than today. That's good, and we lowered her hitting percentage today. We adjusted our lineup to their lineup to put Cat (Bodick) in front of her, and Cat got the block at the end to help us finish it off."

The Pacers got the start they needed in the fifth set, shrugging off the loss in set four to roar out to a 6-2 lead and force a Lander (9-3, 3-1) timeout.

The Bearcats came back from the timeout and cut the deficit to 6-5, but USCA answered with its second five-point run of the set to go ahead 11-5.

A Sadie McKay kill made it 13-7, and then after a service error Bodick finished the match off in style with a block of Miller and a kill to end it.

Emily Lammers had a team-high 16 kills to go with 14 digs for a double-double. McKay hit .275 with 13 kills and 14 digs, freshman Anna Sommer hit .385 with 11 kills and 4.5 of the team's 11 blocks, Mallory Barash had 45 assists and 13 digs, Kari Mercer had 31 digs and Izabella De Lima added 12 digs.

Lander's Madilyn Reed, a Midland Valley graduate, had 50 assists and 10 digs, plus three kills and three service aces.

The Pacers fought off two set points to win a marathon first, but they couldn't capitalize on it as Lander hit .314 in the second to level the match. USCA was in danger of dropping the third but rallied from a 21-17 deficit and scored the last three points to regain the lead, then missed out on a chance to end it in four.

Still, they didn't lose their composure and came out for the fifth with plenty of fire — McKay in particular.

"Sadie is a huge spark plug for us out there. That kid, I worry she's going to throw her shoulder out pumping her fist so hard," Cox said. "She definitely has been a spark plug and has kind of taken in to that O1 spot. She's filling some big shoes that Alie Smith had for a few years, and she's doing a great job at it."

Saturday's win is a step in the right direction for USCA, though Cox felt it shouldn't have taken until the third match to get into the PBC win column. Still, he knows his team has the pieces — especially in the middle — to get where they want to be by the end of the season.

"We've got a lot of people battling for that spot in the middle, and it's fun to have," he said. "It's the complete opposite of what we had last year. It's good to have that diversity. Our offense has a lot of diversity. We can beat you from a lot of different places."

The Pacers play their next four matches on the road, starting with matches at Augusta next Friday and Saturday, and their next home match will be Oct. 7 against Georgia College.