SAVANNAH, Ga. — Three different Bulldogs registered nine kills Thursday as second-seeded Wingate swept seventh-seeded Lenoir-Rhyne in the NCAA first round. Wingate won by scores of 25-19, 25-19 and 25-20 to improve to 30-2 overall, winning its 21st consecutive match while advancing to the regional semifinals for the fifth year in a row. The Bears end their season at 19-12 overall.
This marks the fourth time in the last five years the Bulldogs have swept the opening round match in the NCAA tournament.
Junior right-side hitter Anna Hilton and sophomore outside hitter Susie Murach each had nine kills and nine digs to lead the Wingate attack. Freshman outside hitter Shelly Stumpff added nine kills and seven digs, while sophomore middle blocker Lexi Potter had eight kills. Sophomore setter Alison Cooke had 28 assists, while sophomore libero Stephanie Tassone collected 22 digs.
“Although we won, I know our players agree that we played significantly below the level that will be needed to win this regional,” head coach Shelton Collier said. “We had a sluggish offensive performance and for whatever reason played average or poorly in several stretches. Our goal is always to win and improve, but [Thursday], we just won. We hope to play much stronger in the semifinals.”
Freshman outside hitter Morgan Bunker had six kills and 10 digs to lead the Lenoir-Rhyne attack. Sophomore outside hitter Haley Rhyne added five kills for the Bears. Freshman setter Brianna Gottberg had 11 assists, while sophomore libero Emily Culler notched 17 digs.
A 4-0 run gave the Bulldogs a 10-5 lead in the first set. Stumpff started the flurry with a kill, while Potter and Cooke added a block. A pair of kills from Bunker made it 12-11, while a Bunker ace tied it at 12. Wingate responded with a 6-0 run to take an 18-12 lead. Hilton, Murach and senior middle blocker Grace Krauser each had kills in the spurt, while Stumpff added two aces. A kill from freshman outside hitter Ashley Wells and a Wingate error made it 19-17, but a 5-0 Bulldog run extended it to 24-17. Hilton had two aces in the flurry, while Murach added a kill. Junior middle blocker Allison Rickher capped the opening set with a kill.
A Murach kill and LRU error gave the Bulldogs a 15-12 lead in the second set. Hilton and Potter added kills to push the advantage to four. A kill from senior setter Meredith Lutz trimmed the lead to three at 20-17, but a Krauser kill and two Lenoir-Rhyne errors made it 23-17. A kill from Murach made it 24-19, while a Lenoir-Rhyne error capped the set. The Bulldogs limited Lenoir-Rhyne to just six kills and a hitting percentage of -.023 in the second frame.
Kills from Rickher, Hilton and Stumpff gave Wingate a 13-7 lead in the third set. Kills from Bunker and Morrow, along with a Wingate error cut it to one at 14-13. A Hilton kill pushed the Wingate lead to three, but kills from sophomore outside hitter Kiaya Robinson and sophomore middle blocker Joanna Whitmire made it 18-17. The Bears took a 19-18 lead on back-to-back aces from Rhyne. The Bulldogs regained a two-point lead on three consecutive LRU errors. The Bears cut it to one at 21-20 on a Wingate error, but a pair of Stumpff kills, along with an LRU error made it 24-20. The Bulldogs claimed the match on a Lenoir-Rhyne error.
Wingate hit .185 on the match, with 41 kills and 19 errors in 119 attacks. The Bears were held to just 24 kills on the match, committing 18 errors in 118 attacks for a hitting percentage of .055. Hilton, Stumpff and Krauser had two aces each for the Bulldogs, while Potter contributed a pair of blocks.
Wingate takes on Newberry on Friday in the regional semifinals.