The Oglethorpe volleyball team got their season off to an outstanding start Saturday at their own Stormy Petrel Challenge at Dorough Field House, earning victories over Illinois Tech and Columbia (South Carolina) to start the campaign 2-0. The 3-2 victory over Illinois Tech in the afternoon featured the Petrels rallying from 2-0 down and coming back from deficits in two of the final three sets.
After watching the Petrels eliminate their two-set lead, Illinois Tech responded by building an 8-4 advantage to start the decisive fifth set. However, Oglethorpe quickly responded with a huge 9-1 run to turn the tables and give themselves a 13-9 lead. After a three-point run from the Scarlet Hawks, the Petrels responded again, giving themselves match point. Freshman Jacoby Sims ended the match off an assist from senior setter Jordan Jones, giving the Petrels a 15-12 victory in the final set. Sims finished the match with a team-high 14 kills to go with 16 digs, while Jones led all participants with 36 assists.
It was a victory that appeared unlikely about an hour earlier, when Illinois Tech was up two-sets-to-none and held a 22-16 lead in the third. The Petrels stormed back in that set, though, embarking on a 7-0 run to turn things around and take a 23-22 lead in the set. Sims recorded four kills during the stretch, while Jones passed out five assists. Consecutive Oglethorpe errors brought them to the brink, though, facing match point at 24-23. After a timeout, junior middle hitter Ashlee Tolbert came up with a block to stave off the match point and killed off the set two points later to give Oglethorpe a 26-24 third-set win, keeping them alive. Tolbert finished the match with six kills, two solo blocks and two block assists.
The fourth set was back and forth early and the Petrels held an 8-7 lead early on. They kicked into gear after that, though, going on an 8-2 run to build a 16-9 lead. The Scarlet Hawks cut it to a three-point advantage with a 5-1 run of their own, making the score 21-18, but Oglethorpe finished off the stanza from there. Three straight points for the Petrels gave them a set point and junior right-side hitter Alette Duan finished a set from Jones to give the Petrels the set, 25-20. Duan finished the match with 11 kills.
Illinois Tech dominated the first set, going on a 14-3 run at one point, to put the match in their favor early with a 25-11 first-set win. The second set started with much of the same, as the Scarlet Hawks built a 13-5 advantage in the early going. The Petrels showed a lot of fight in the second, though, perhaps serving as a sign of things to come. They went on a 14-4 run over the middle of the stanza to actually turn it around and take a 19-17 lead. The Hawks responded, though, going on a 7-1 run of their own to earn set point at 24-20. The Petrels staved it off for a couple points, but Illinois Tech eventually won the set 25-22.
"You couldn't script the start of the season any better," said Oglethorpe head coach Joseph Goodson, who picked up his first two victories as Oglethorpe's head volleyball coach. "Winning's winning, but I think that five-set comeback win is bigger for us than had we just swept them. I'm extremely proud of the effort from our team. It's one of those things where it's a bit hard to keep your foot on the gas after the 3-set win in the earlier match, and we let it lull us to sleep a little bit. But wet talked in the locker room between the second and third sets about the possibility of this being an epic five-set win if we could just play one contact at a time, and that's exactly what we did."
In the opening contest against Columbia, the Petrels enjoyed a fairly comfortable 3-0 victory. They ran out to a 21-12 lead on the visiting Koalas in the first set and cruised to a 25-17 win, then played even better in the second set, building a 15-6 advantage before completely running away with the set, ending on a 9-3 run to win it 25-11. In all, the Petrels finished the set with a 17-6 run after Columbia cut an early lead to 8-5.
The Koalas responded in the third set, pushing out to an 8-5 lead of their own. Oglethorpe came back with a 9-2 run to wrest control of the set away and go ahead 14-10. Columbia hung in, though, and after trading points for a stretch, the Petrels remained ahead by just four. They had match point, though, up 24-20. The Koalas ran off four straight to tie the score, but they never got the lead. Woodruff eventually finished them off from an assist by Jones, giving the Petrels the 27-25 win in the third set.
Woodruff finished with five kills for the match and hit .312, while Jones passed out a match-high 22 assists. North led all competitors with 27 digs, while Sims led all competitors with nine kills.
The Petrels will finish off the Stormy Petrels Challenge in a battle against in-state opponent Piedmont Sunday at 1:30 p.m. On Saturday, the Lions also defeated Columbia 3-0, and they knocked off Illinois Tech 3-1. Illinois Tech will take on Columbia in the day's opening match at 11 a.m.
"It's going to be another grinder tomorrow," said Goodson. "I think a big component of tomorrow's match is how we recover from tonight. It's really easy to have an emotional letdown after a win like we had today, so we're going to rely on our seniors and upperclassmen to help us make sure that doesn't happen tomorrow."