Dec. 5, 2008

Courtesy of Furman Athletics

CLEMSON, S.C. - Despite a strong showing against a talented Utah team, the Paladins were unable to extend their late-season winning streak any longer, as they fell 3-0 to 12th-ranked Utah in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Utah came out strong in the first set, taking an early 10-4 advantage and leading by as many as nine points before claiming the first set 25-17. The Utes out-blocked the Paladins four to two in the first set, and forced a low .081 hitting percentage from Furman, while hitting .200 as a team themselves.

Furman responded in game two, using aggressive offense to keep a slight lead through most of the game. The teams battled through tied scores from 5-5 to 9-9 before Utah took a two-point lead. Furman then scored three unanswered points to take the 12-11 lead. The teams then fought through six more tied scores before the Utes managed a three-point advantage at 20-17.

The Paladins answered with tenacious defense to tie the score at 21, forcing a Utah time-out. After the time-out a block by Kelsey Salava and Nicole Palazzo gave the Paladins the 22-21 advantage, but it was not enough, as Utah fought back to take the second set 26-24. Furman matched the Utes with four total blocks in the second set, but were out-dug 26-16. The Paladins again struggled with their offense, hitting only .096 to the Utes' .200.

Despite being down two sets to none, Furman didn't give up in the third set, jumping to a 6-3 lead. The Paladins held the lead until the Utes tied the set at eight. In a repeat of the first two sets, the teams battled through several tied scores before Utah again took a three point lead at 20-17. The Utes then scored five straight points to take the match 25-17.

"I'm proud of our showing tonight," said head coach Michelle Young. "Our goals for this match were to come out pass well and have good first contacts, and we did a good job of battling, especially with this being our first time in the NCAA tournament."

Utah's balanced offense showed in the final statistics, with Lori Baird, Kathryn Haynie and Emillie Toone each contributing eight kills to lead the Utes. Libero Keisha Fisher led all players with 21 digs, and middle blocker Toone added six block assists on the night.

Freshman Kelly Kirby led the Paladins with 11 kills and also added seven digs.

"I'm not surprised," commented Young on Kirby's performance. "We have several freshman and sophomores who have significant roles on our team, and having this experience and having benefitted from the leadership of our seniors will only help Furman volleyball take huge strides in the future."

With nine kills tonight, senior Alison West finishes her career with 1,012 career kills. She is the 15th player in Furman history to reach the 1,000 career kill mark.

"I'm so proud of the way our team played tonight," West remarked. "I couldn't go out any better as a senior, and I know that Furman will make it back into the tournament and will continue to get better, and I'm just happy to be a part of Furman history."

Senior Nicole Palazzo added seven kills and four total blocks, while senior Emily Harby and freshman Alexis Shaffer each contributed four total blocks. Junior setter Kelsey Salava led the defense with 9 digs and also racked up 26 assists.

With the win, Utah improves to 25-4 and will face the winner of the Clemson vs. Tennessee match on Saturday, December 6 at 7:00 p.m. Furman finishes the season with a 21-14 record.