Tigers Dig Their Way Out Of A Hole, Win In Five Over Cal State Fullerton

#62 Kat Schulz - Photo by: Gary Jones
#62 Kat Schulz - Photo by: Gary Jones
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Stockton, Calif. - With their backs against the wall for the fifth time in 2012, the Pacific volleyball team kept its five-set magic going as the Tigers dug their way back for a 3-2 win over Cal State Fullerton on Friday, September 28. The win improved the Tigers record to 13-2 on the year and 1-1 in Big West play while the Titans fell to 6-10 overall and 0-3 in conference action.

Set scores for the match were: 25-22, 14-25, 20-25, 25-13, 15-13.

Facing their fifth five-setter of the season, the Tigers once again came out on top as Pacific used a big opening sequence to grab control of the fifth set while holding on late to put away the match. Led by their junior at the pin, Megan Birch, the Tigers took an 8-4 lead at the turn as Birch pounded down four of her match-high 20 kills to claim half of Pacific's points. After the turn, the Tigers relied on their backline defense to halt the Titans' comeback attempts as Pacific tallied 17 digs in the fifth set alone led by senior Hannah Clancy's six. Clancy finished the match with a match-best 26 digs.

Prior to the fifth set, the Tigers and Titans split the opening four sets with the Tigers taking sets one and four while the Titans ran away with sets two and three.

In what was a close opening set, the Tigers used a trio of runs throughout the first frame to come away with the early 1-0 lead over the Titans. Pacific began the match by running out to an 8-4 lead, forcing an early timeout and setting the stage for the remainder of the set. With their four-point advantage, the Tigers tried to pull away from Cal State Fullerton, pushing their lead to as much as six before the Titans pushed back late in the set. Up just one at 22-21, the Tigers closed by taking three of the final four points, taking advantage of a big block from sophomore Gillian Howard and Kat Schulz and a final kill by senior Gabby Cowden.

After taking the opening set with a late run that answered the Titans' final push, the Tigers had no answer for the Titans in the second set as Cal State Fullerton ran out to a big lead and never looked back. For Pacific, a three-point deficit at 9-6 quickly got out of hand as the Titans ran off seven straight points to seal the second frame early and even the match at 1-1.

For the Tigers, the break proved to be of no help as the Titans parlayed their success in set two into another big win in set three as Pacific fell into a seven-point hole midway through the set and could never recover.  The Tigers attempted to mount a comeback, climbing to within three at 22-19, but Cal State Fullerton responded by taking three of the final four points to capture the 2-1 lead.

After back-to-back tough losses in sets two and three, the Tigers finally figured out a winning combination to the match in set four as Pacific ramped up its defensive efforts to stymie the Titan attack. Pushed into a corner by the Titans, the Tigers got busy at the net as Pacific pounced on Cal State Fullerton to the tune of seven blocks. Up just one at 8-7, the Tigers turned in 13-2 run to climb back into the match and force a fifth set.

Overall, the Tigers hit just .188 in the match, but hit their best clips when the match was on the line in sets four (.308) and five (.229). Birch led all attackers in the match with 20 kills on 52 attacks including picking up eight in the final two sets. Behind Birch, Howard and Schulz each added 10 kills as Howard added five blocks while Schulz posted a career-best 25 digs. The freshman earned her eighth double-double of the year with her 10 kills and 25 digs while she also posted four blocks. Clancy joined the double-double party as the senior tallied 36 assists and 26 digs for her team-best 12th double-double of the year.

Junior Jennifer Sanders completed her night with eight kills and seven blocks while senior Koala Matsuoka added 21 digs for the Tigers from the backline. Seeing her first extended action of the season, freshman Kimmy Whitson made a major impact for the Tigers as the young setter tallied 16 assists and three blocks in three full sets of action. 

For the Titans, Kayla Neto and Lauren Kissel each tallied 16 kills to lead the way while Bre Moreland posted 13 kills.  Neto and Moreland each posted double-doubles on the night by adding 21 digs and 15 digs, respectively, to Cal State Fullerton's totals while setter, Kaylynne Taeatafa grabbed one of her own with 41 assists and 17 digs. Neto also added seven blocks on the night as the Titans posted 12.0 team blocks, one less than Pacific's 13.0.

The Tigers will be back in action on Saturday, September 29, when they take on UC Riverside at the Alex G. Spanos Center. The Highlanders enter the match having dropped a five-set decision to UC Davis on Friday night. The two teams will meet at 7:00 pm.