PEORIA, Ill. – The University of Tennessee at Martin volleyball team captured the CEFCU Classic championship by turning away host Bradley 3-1 (17-25, 25-16, 26-24, 25-19) this evening. Earlier in the morning, the Skyhawks battled but fell 3-1 in a matchup against Western Illinois (25-23, 18-25, 18-25, 16-25) but UT Martin earned the tournament victory because of a tiebreaker.
“We called this a light bulb moment,” Skyhawk head coach Darrin McClure said. “We’ve had really good chemistry all preseason, it just hadn’t shown until tonight. We weren’t playing bad but we are just young and learning to play together. We have a long way to go to become more consistent but I like our progress.”
Chelsea Bowles and Emily Keaton were named to the All-Tournament team, with Bowles earning tournament Most Valuable Player honors. Bowles piled up 58 digs (5.27 per set) in the tournament while Keaton hit .302 and amassed 34 kills (3.09 per set) to go along with 33 digs.
In the de facto tournament championship match against Bradley, the Skyhawk offense rose to the occasion – hitting .277 (62 kills, 16 errors in 166 attempts). Keaton registered a game-high 15 kills against only two errors in 39 attempts (.333) while tallying 14 digs, while Julia Devinney (12 kills, .500 attack percentage) and Allie Whimpey (12 kills, .357) also accumulated double-digit kills. Amanda Crask had eight kills, 45 assists and eight digs, while Bowles was responsible for a match-high 24 digs.
“Amanda was a bigtime factor in our success this weekend,” McClure said. “She is a stat-stuffer and I am proud of her. Emily and Chelsea played really solid all weekend too. Emily’s offense has been really good in practice and we were glad to see it in the game. Our freshmen middles (Julia and Alisha) did a great job tonight too. We finally blocked balls for points and that’s something we have been lacking.”
UT Martin trailed 4-1 in the first set before a Crask kill halted Bradley’s momentum. A kill by Devinney brought the Skyhawks within two points at 6-4 but the Braves followed with four unanswered points to begin a 7-1 run. UT Martin would get within six points on two more occasions but would not get any closer as Bradley took the first set. Bowles had seven digs in the first set to lead the Skyhawks.
The Skyhawks began the second set with a 4-2 lead and expanded that advantage out to 9-4 thanks to an assisted block by Alisha Erves and Lynsey Hazelwood. Although Bradley scored five straight points to even the score at 9-all, the Skyhawks didn’t panic, reeling off a 9-1 run of their own to go on top by an 18-10 margin. A kill by Whimpey gave UT Martin a double-digit lead at 23-13 and a Hazelwood kill provided the Skyhawks with the 25-16 win.
Keaton (five kills, .625), Crask (13 assists) and Bowles (eight digs) paced UT Martin in the crucial second set.
In the third set, the Skyhawks took their first lead at 6-5 thanks to a solo block by Erves.
The Skyhawks maintained the lead until the Braves went on a 5-2 run to go on top 14-13, but UT Martin responded with four of the next five points to go back ahead 17-15. A 3-0 Bradley run was met with a 3-0 Skyhawk run, followed by four unanswered points by Bradley that resulted in a 22-20 Brave lead. UT Martin faced a 2-1 deficit with the score at 24-23 Bradley, but three straight attack errors – the last of which was blocked by Whimpey and Devinney – gave the Skyhawks the 26-24 victory.
Whimpey slammed down a team-best four kills for the Skyhawks, who were responsible for 15 kills in the third set. Crask accounted for 13 assists in the set.
UT Martin scored the first three and four of the first five points of the fourth set. However, a 5-1 Bradley run erased the Skyhawk lead until UT Martin unleashed a 6-0 run of its own to surge back ahead by a 13-9 margin. The Skyhawks were able to push their lead out to eight (23-15) thanks to an 8-2 run that was capped off by yet another solo block by Erves. The Braves would get back within five but a Hazelwood kill clinched the set, match and the tournament title for UT Martin.
Keaton (five kills), Devinney (four kills, .800 attack percentage) and Crask (13 assists) helped guide the Skyhawks to 20 kills in the fourth set alone.
In the first match of the day against Western Illinois, the Skyhawks were led offensively by Keaton’s 13 kills. Crask nearly notched her second career triple-double but came up just shy with nine kills, 32 assists and 10 digs. Bowles (17 digs) and Colleen Larson (13 digs) paced UT Martin defensively.
The Fighting Leathernecks jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the first set but UT Martin would claw back and soon put together a 5-0 run to go ahead 10-9. An Erves kill and Whimpey ace extended the Skyhawk lead out to four at 18-14, but Western Illinois soon scored six of the next seven points to go on top by a 20-19 margin. UT Martin responded with five consecutive points of its own to retake the lead 24-20 but Western Illinois would soon cut its deficit to 24-23. However, a kill by Crask concluded the set and gave UT Martin an early 1-0 lead.
Keaton was on fire in the first set, slamming down six kills in 12 attempts. Crask had four kills to go along with 10 assists while Larson’s seven digs paced the Skyhawk defensive attack.
Western Illinois accounted for the first four points of the second set, but the Skyhawks were able to cut their deficit to one at 8-7 thanks to back-to-back kills by Whimpey and Devinney. The Fighting Leathernecks then scored seven of the next nine points to go ahead 15-9. UT Martin would try to stage a comeback late by getting within five at 23-18 but time ran out on the Skyhawks, who hit .250 (11 kills, three errors in 32 attempts) in the second set.
A Keaton kill, Kelly Hogan service ace and Crask kill led UT Martin to an early 3-1 lead in the third set but Western Illinois would soon go on a 6-1 run. The Skyhawks answered right back to get within two at 9-7 but five straight points by the Fighting Leathernecks led to a 14-7 lead. Later on in the set, the Skyhawks faced a nine-point deficit but soon scored six of the next eight points to pull within five at 22-17 and 23-18. However, back-to-back kills by Western Illinois gave the Fighting Leathernecks a 2-1 lead.
After early kills by Erves and Keaton ignited the Skyhawks in the fourth set, back-to-back kills by Devinney sliced UT Martin’s deficit to 6-4. Western Illinois bounced back with a 4-0 run that resulted in a 14-7 lead. The Skyhawks fought back courtesy of a 6-2 run to get within 19-16 late. However, the Fighting Leathernecks closed out the set with six straight points. Bowles had seven digs in the fourth and final set alone.
UT Martin’s next match is the 2013 home opener on Tuesday, Sept. 3 against Evansville at 6:30 p.m. The first 150 students with a valid student ID will receive free pizza.