NORFOLK, Va. – The circumstances could not have lined up any better for the Norfolk State volleyball team on Sunday afternoon. Needing a win on Senior Day over its biggest rival to keep its season alive, the Spartans came through when it counted the most.
Playing in front of a raucous crowd inside Gill Gymnasium, NSU rode that momentum to a 3-1 win over Hampton to secure the fourth and final MEAC Northern Division spot in the conference tournament in two weeks.
It was a winner-take-all match for that fourth and final spot, and a contest that was nearly dead even except from the service line. The Spartans secured the win by taking the final two sets. First, thanks to a big run in the middle, NSU won the opening stanza by a 25-22 margin. Hampton stormed back and held off the Spartans in the second set, 25-20. NSU, though, was in control in the third set and most of the fourth in winning 25-15 and 25-20, respectively.
After a slow start, senior Jessica Johnson caught fire late, combining for 14 of her 17 total kills in the final two stanzas. She now needs just six more to reach 1,000 for her career and become the second NSU player ever to reach that mark.
NSU finished the regular season with a 5-7 MEAC record, tying Hampton for fourth place in the division. Due to the Spartans’ sweep of the Pirates this season, Norfolk State secured the tiebreaker to earn a spot in the tournament. Only the top four teams from each division advance.
As the No. 4 seed, NSU will play South No. 1 seed Florida A&M on Nov. 18 at 4 p.m. in the first round of the tournament.
The final stat line showed little difference between NSU (7-19 overall) and Hampton (6-17). The only major advantage for either team came at the service line, where the Spartans held a 13-6 edge in service aces. It was NSU’s serve that sparked the Spartans early on.
NSU fell behind by three points at the start of the match, but senior Alex Irizarry had three aces during a 9-0 run to put her team up by six, 14-8. An 8-2 run a little later put the Spartans in complete control and allowed them to double up Hampton, 22-11. Hampton turned right around and won 11 of the next 13 points to get to within 24-22 before sophomore Lexi Brown ended the threat with one of her six kills on the day.
The Spartans had to call timeout down 8-3 in the second set, and then junior Clarke Tyler served seven straight times for a two-point lead. Hampton won the next five points to slowly pull ahead, but Johnson and Tyler had aces during a 5-2 run that forced a Pirate timeout. Still up 22-20, Hampton got a pair of kills from leading hitter Micah Leavell to close out the set.
Leavell led all players with 20 kills after tallying 30 in the first match this year against NSU. She also had 11 digs on Sunday while hitting .279.
Johnson had six kills, and senior Sydney Dailey added four on just 15 swings combined between the two in the third set to help the Spartans pull away for good. NSU hit .619 with just one error in the third set. The Spartans completed dominated the early going, jumping ahead by a 13-5 margin. Hampton stayed to within five or six points until several errors on the Pirates handed the Spartans a 5-1 run and a nine-point lead.
Johnson closed the set with back-to-back kills, but Hampton came back to win six of the first eight points in the fourth set. NSU just wore down the Pirates from there, twice winning four in a row as part of a larger 10-2 run. The Spartans were unable to extend that four-point lead, and Hampton eventually tied it up at 20-20 after winning four of the last five points.
But after a Spartan timeout, Johnson had two kills, and junior Melvina Brown added two aces as NSU won the last five points of the match to set off a wild celebration on its side of the court.
Irizarry tallied four aces on the night, while Melvina Brown had three to go with a match-high 16 digs. Dailey, meanwhile, had nine kills in her last home match ever.
Also playing on her Senior Day, Uwem Etuk had four kills and three blocks.
Each team had 45 kills on a difference of just one attack error between the two. Several fewer errors allowed NSU to tally a .212 attack percentage compared to a .188 clip for Hampton. Each team also had four blocks, with Hampton holding a slight advantage in digs, 40-36.
Originally published at nsuspartans.com