Sept. 3, 2011
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - For the second straight night, Auburn rallied from multiple deficits and prevailed in a deciding fifth set to take a 3-2 (25-22, 15-25, 25-23, 19-25, 15-11) victory over tournament host Middle Tennessee on Saturday night at the Blue Raider Bash.
The Tigers (5-1) have won five matches in a row, matching their longest winning streak from the 2010 season, and won despite being bested in nearly every statistical category by MTSU (2-3). The Blue Raiders outhit the Tigers .276 to .173, had 14 more kills, two fewer errors, 14 more digs and one more block; yet the Tigers' never-say-die attitude and continued aggressiveness when faced with large deficits in all five sets prevailed.
"Those are fun matches to be involved in," Auburn head coach Rick Nold said. "You had two very competitive teams. Sometimes at the end it just comes down to getting the right break, and I think we earned those breaks by being aggressive. I think, statistically, they beat us in most every area. But it's just making the timely play. We try to keep communicating; they were in a very difficult system to stop, so we just tried to stick with the same game plan. In the end, that paid off, and we made some plays when we needed them."
Sarah Bullock led Auburn with 12 kills in the match to go along with seven digs and three blocks. Camila Jersonsky had the Tigers' best hitting percentage at .435 with 11 kills and four blocks. Kelly Fidero also had 11 kills on the night, while Vesela Zapryanova had seven kills and seven digs.
Over the three matches so far this weekend, Jersonsky has 32 kills and is hitting .534 with just one attack error over 13 sets played. She also has nine blocks in the three matches.
"I think Camila definitely has come in and made a big impact," Nold said. "They were doing a lot of things to try and stop her; I thought she did a good job of picking her spots when she could go after them. And then she came up with a big block at the end. So I think she definitely stood out."
Sarah Wroblicky, making her first start at libero since the season's opening match, finished with a career-high 15 digs and also had a kill on a mishandled overpass.
"Our passing, overall, was much better tonight," Nold said. "We had a lot of people rotating through those spots. Starting off the season, that was an area we needed to improve a lot, and I think we have."
Auburn took the first set 25-22 on the strength of six kills from Kelly Fidero and an outstanding .500 hitting percentage where the Tigers had 15 kills with just three errors. But MTSU was equally impressive with a .357 average as the Tigers had to come from behind to take an early lead in the match. With MTSU leading 19-17, Auburn won the next four points to take a 21-19 lead as MTSU made three errors in that stretch. A pair of kills from Fidero pushed the lead to 23-20 before the Radiers climbed back to within a point at 23-22, but kills from Fidero and Bullock ended the first set in favor of the Tigers.
But the second set was all Blue Raiders as MTSU rolled to a 25-15 win. Auburn hit a flat .000 and especially had trouble from the outside as three attack attempts either hit or went outside the antennas. MTSU jumped out to a 10-5 lead, then extended that to 15-7 on three attack errors by the Tigers. Auburn ran off three straight points at one juncture, but it was too little, too late as MTSU led by as many as 11 in the set.
It was setting up to be more of the same in the third as Middle Tennessee had a 22-18 lead. But a great rotation with Chelsea Wintzinger serving sent the Tigers on a 6-0 run that would give them their first lead since early in the set and lead to a 25-23 win. In that six-point stretch, Jersonsky and Bullock had kills, Wintzinger served up an ace, and MTSU committed three errors to give the Tigers a chance at set point. The Blue Raiders fought off one game point, but served into the net at 24-23 to give Auburn a 2-1 lead in the match. Auburn won the set despite being outhit by the Blue Raiders .286 to .216.
Set number four was quite similar to the second as MTSU jumped out to a 10-4 lead and never really looked back en route to a 25-19 win. Auburn managed to cut the deficit to as few as four points at 16-12 but would get no closer in the set. The Tigers hit just .129 in the set with just nine kills.
The fifth set was a real barn-burner with eight ties and four lead changes. The teams traded leads until Auburn got the first advantage at 8-6 on a pair of kills from Bullock just before the teams changed ends. From there, though, Middle would win five of the next six points - including a highly controversial call on a shot down the line - to make it 11-9 in MTSU's favor and force an Auburn timeout.
A kill from Fidero to make it a one-point game at 11-10 would force a timeout by MTSU. Little did the Raiders know it would be the start of a 6-0 run to end the match. With Zapryanova serving, a bad set by MTSU tied the match, and a block from Jersonsky gave the Tigers a 12-11 lead. Zapryanova would then serve up an ace to make it a 13-11 game, and Jersonsky put down two kills to end the match and set off a joyous celebration by the Tiger bench.
Auburn's five-match winning streak equals a similar streak in 2010 for the longest by a Tiger club since the 2003 season when Auburn ran off nine wins in a row. It was Auburn's second win of the day after defeating Austin Peay by a 3-1 count earlier Saturday.
It was the second straight year for Auburn to win a five-set match over Middle Tennessee in their home tournament. Last year's win - almost one year ago to the day, Sept. 4, 2010 - started the aforementioned five-match winning streak.
The Tigers will try to make it six straight as they wrap up their weekend at the Blue Raider Bash with a 12:30 p.m. match Sunday against Big 12 foe Missouri. Live stats will be available through GoBlueRaiders.com, and fans can follow @AUVolleyball on Twitter for updates throughout the match and the season.