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Bulldogs stage heroic comeback, fall just short of upset in five-set loss to LIU

Photo by: Dave Silverman
Photo by: Dave Silverman

SMITHFIELD, R.I. – The Bryant University volleyball team took league-leading LIU Brooklyn to its first five-set match of the 2014 Northeast Conference season, but the Bulldogs would fall just short of the biggest upset of the year in a 3-2 home loss Saturday afternoon at the Chace Athletic Center.

Rookie Natascha Scarff (Geneva, Switzerland) tied her career high, posting a match-best 20 kills and adding 14 digs to lead the Bulldogs (9-22, 4-7 NEC), while senior Elena Lohr (Loveland, Ohio) registered her own double-double with 11 kills and 10 digs. Junior libero Debora Magalhaes (Belo Horizonte, Brazil) paced the match defensively with 24 digs, while junior Taylor Onoyan (Crystal Lake, Ill.) led the Black and Gold at the net with a contest-high five blocks.

The Blackbirds (20-6, 11-0) eked out the five-set win to stay perfect in league action behind double-double efforts from Annika Foit (17 kills, 14 digs) and Vera Djuric (match-high 50 assists, 13 digs), while Tamara Ignjic's 19 kills were a side best. Adriana Vinas Joy posted 20 digs for the visitors, who got four blocks apiece from Nicole Okeke (5 kills) and Djuric.

The Bulldogs entered the 10-minute intermission with a two-set deficit after LIU Brooklyn's 25-17 and 25-16 wins to open the match. But when the Blackbirds changed personnel for the third frame, Bryant capitalized, taking on an early lead. The hosts maintained the advantage until back-to-back Artisha Jackson aces gave the visitors a 9-8 edge. The Bulldogs battled back to tie the set at 10-10, 13-13 and 16-16, and the margin would stay within two points until a kill from Scarff put Bryant out in front, 21-18.

LIU closed the gap to 22-21, but two errors by the Blackbirds put the frame out of reach, as the home side closed out the 25-22 victory with a Scarff point to half its deficit entering the fourth stanza. Bryant hit an impressive .448 in the frame with 16 kills and just three attack errors, limiting the Blackbirds to a .194 clip.

And with the momentum in its corner, Bryant dominated the fourth, opening with the first three points of the set before taking a 6-2 advantage behind the serving of sophomore Carissa Gould (Woonsocket, R.I.). Consecutive LIU attack errors pushed the Bulldogs' lead to 13-8 later in the set, forcing a visitors' timeout, and Lohr came out of the break with her only ace of the contest for a 14-8 advantage that the Black and Gold would build to 19-9 once again behind the serving success of Gould. The lead would prove too much for the Blackbirds, who would run out of time in a 25-15 Bryant win that forced a fifth set on LIU for the first time in conference play.

But in the fifth, the Blackbirds settled down, taking an early 5-1 lead that would thwart the Bulldogs' chance to disrupt LIU's run to perfection. Bryant cut the deficit to 5-3, but the visitors would double up their hosts not long after, 10-5. With LIU leading, 14-8, the Bulldogs continued to fight, scoring the next four points to close the gap to 14-12. But it was too little, too late, for the Black and Gold, as Ignjic finished off the victory, 15-12, for the 3-2 win.

On the day, LIU Brooklyn narrowly outhit the Bulldogs, .211 to .204, while the hosts won the battle in digs, 70-66, and blocks, 8.0-7.5. Both teams served up four aces. The Bulldogs won't dwell on the loss for long, though, as they return to the court Sunday at 1:00 p.m. to host St. Francis Brooklyn in a Senior Day matchup.