Dec. 5, 2009

Courtesy of Jacksonville State Athletics

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Faced with a 2-1 deficit, the Jacksonville State volleyball team rallied to win the final two sets and claim the Gamecocks' first-ever NCAA Tournament win in the form of a 3-2 defeat of Florida A&M in Saturday's first round.

The Gamecocks (27-7) won their 12th-straight fifth-set match but had to rally to force the deciding game. After claiming a 25-22 win in the opening set, the Lady Rattlers (17-10) rolled to wins in the second and third sets and put JSU's backs against the wall. A late fourth-set rally forced the match into the deciding one, a place the Gamecocks are a perfect 10-0 in 2009.

Senior Brittney Whitten, the only player on the Gamecocks' roster that played in their last NCAA appearance in 2006, put her team on her shoulders. The Boonville, Ind., native recorded her 26th career double-double with 19 kills and 14 digs. Her match-high kills total came on a .283 attack percentage that saw just six errors in 46 attacks.

Juniors Kara Slater and Caitlin Vorbeck provided the Gamecocks' production up front. Slater, a Colorado Springs, Colo., native, knocked down nine kills on a .389 attack percentage, while blocking four shots at the net. Vorbeck, a Raytown, Mo., native, assisted on six of the Gamecocks' 11.5 team blocks while pitching in with 12 kills on offense.

Sophomore Lauren Harkins, the school's single-season record holder for digs, added a team-best 15 to her total on Saturday. The native of Louisville, Ky., now has 648 on the year, 122 more than the previous record set by Kisha West in 2005. Senior Paige Beasley did what she could on the back row to continue her career, picking up 10 digs to round out a trio of JSU players in double figures.

Junior Brooke Schumacher dished 43 assists and grabbed nine digs in the win. She now has 1242 on the season, the seventh-highest total in school history. The native of Lake in the Hills, Ill., also assisted on four blocks. The Gamecocks' two freshmen, Jen Meyer and Alyx Schulte, each added eight kills in the match.

The Lady Rattlers were led by Maria Gomez's double-double of 19 kills and 11 digs. Gomez hit .375 in the win, while Jovana Blazeski added 16 kills on 58 swings and 14 digs on the back row.

In the opening set, neither team led by more than three points until a late 9-1 JSU run turned an 18-15 deficit into a 24-19 Gamecock lead. The Rattlers rattled off the next three points before a Whitten kill gave Jax State a 25-22 win. The victory was the Gamecocks' first ever set win in their NCAA Tournament history.

FAMU stormed out of the gates in the second set to build an early 11-5 lead. JSU never pulled any closer than three points before the Rattlers tied the match with a 25-18 win. JSU hit for a slightly better percentage in the second set than the first but saw the Rattlers commit just two errors and hit .429 en route to tying the match.

In the third set, the Gamecocks built an early 8-5 lead, but FAMU put together a 9-1 run that put the Rattlers in control of the set with a 14-9 lead. JSU slowly cut into the lead before pulling to within one at 16-15 and tying it at 17-17. The two exchanged points twice before a FAMU error gave JSU a 20-19 lead. With the Gamecocks trailing 23-22, an Alyx Schulte attack was ruled in by the line judge but overturned by the lead official setting up a 25-23 FAMU win that put the Gamecocks' backs against the wall.

The fourth set started off with 13 lead changes before a small run by the Gamecocks gave them an 18-15 lead. The three-point advantage was the largest by either team to that point in the set. JSU never looked back, rolling to a 25-20 win that sent the match into the deciding fifth set.

A 5-3 JSU run to start the fifth set was answered by a 4-0 FAMU run that put the Rattlers in front. The two exchanged blows until a Jen Meyer kill gave the Gamecocks a 13-12 lead. They never looked back, sealing the match on a Blazeski attack that missed wide and gave the Gamecocks a 15-13 win.

JSU will advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, a place only the Gamecocks' softball team has seen before. Jax State will take on the No. 3 National Seed and host Florida State at 2 p.m. CT.

Jacksonville State Head Coach Rick Nold
Opening Statement:
"I think for us, obviously it's a big situation for us coming in it's our third time in the tournament. But always our goal has been to get in and make some noise in the tournament. It wasn't probably our best game where we didn't do some things throughout the whole match that we normally do. But what we've shown all year is we have a lot of grit in us when we got down 2-1. A lot of people watching will probably say it's pretty normal for us. We know how to play in that situation. I thought we stayed aggressive and really came together as a team. When you do that, good things can happen."

On their fan support:
"To me, it's been all season that way. We've had a great following and to start off when you have a match like this it's going to be a lot of energy and to have a big group behind you, and they've had to travel a long ways to get here. I think everybody had support here and it makes it a lot more comforting for the players."

Senior Brittney Whitten
On having to play FAMU in Tallahassee:
"It might sound arrogant, but we talk about playing cocky or playing with confidence. Our motto all year has been `Our House'. No matter what gym we're in, we're going to make it our house, our atmosphere, we're going to play the way we need to play. If Florida State wins, we'll play Florida State tomorrow and we'll look to make it our house tomorrow again."

Junior Kara Slater
On their fan support:
"I think it gives us a lot just because it's our parents, our family; it's just nice to have that familiarity. They've been with us all conference, all tournament and they have just been really supportive, really loud, really energetic and it always helps us."

Florida A&M Head Coach Tanio "Tony" Trifonov
Opening Statement:
"Well, I think we played a very tough match against a very good team and it kind of came down to a few errors. Fifteen-13 in the fifth game, I mean, it doesn't get any closer than this. We just made like one too many unforced errors. We're relatively a very young team. We have only one senior (Maria Gomez) who played extraordinary tonight. It's just, sometimes it's not your day. You're tied 13-13 and a ball bounces off the tape and starts going over the net and just drops on your side. It could have gone either way. I'm proud of our kids and the way they went and fought and congratulations on Jacksonville State's great win. It's hard enough to get into the NCAA Tournament and it's so much more difficult to win a match and advance. In our 10 trips, we've done it only once and to come that close, it's tough, it's tough but the kids will get good experience out of this and hopefully the freshmen we have and the returning group without Maria Gomez will be even better next year."

On playing in Tallahassee and not advancing:
"Well, it doesn't matter where you play, it's always disappointing (to lose). It's always disappointing and like I said, five games, and Jacksonville State is a very good team as well. We would have loved to advance and maybe have the opportunity to play Florida State and pack the gym tomorrow but it wasn't our day today."

On playing in the NCAA Tournament:
"It's about the experience of the student-athletes and I think it was a great experience and a great college match today/"

Senior Maria Gomez
"I feel like we could have won this game, 3-1. I think we just relaxed a little bit at the end. Like Coach said, it could be either way. It's disappointing for me because it was my last year so it feels a little bit bad but I know next year, the girls are going to do good."

"I personally felt that when were up 2-1, I thought okay, this is our match because when you lose the first game, then win the second game and win the other team, the other team usually goes down and you have to go with everything but it didn't happen."