Nov 17, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — NC State third-year coach Bryan Bunn admits that his team played tentatively in the first two sets of Saturday afternoon’s home finale against Virginia Tech, losing both to the Hokies.
But after the break, the Wolfpack came out fearlessly and, for the fourth time in the last two seasons, swept the final three sets of a five-game match to beat the Hokies 3-2 (21-25, 17-25, 25-16, 25-13, 15-10) and keep its NCAA hopes alive.
The Wolfpack (22-8 overall, 12-7 ACC) is now assured of no worse than fourth place in the ACC standings, its best conference finish since the 1991 team was tied for fourth in the league with a 3-4 record.
“Virginia Tech came out and played fearlessly in the first two sets,” said third-year head coach Bryan Bunn. “They went up and swung away. We played tentatively and without fear.
“That’s what we talked about at the break, that we needed to play without fear, and that’s what we did. We were loose. We started serving the ball tough, we started swinging away and that was the difference in the match.”
Even though the Pack was outhit in the first two sets, it finished the match with a .333 hitting average. Virginia Tech, after hitting better than .300 in the first three sets, finished at .299, as both teams were accurate all night with their attacks.
The Wolfpack stole the momentum with its superior service game and its tenacity during its comeback. Both seniors Alexa Micek and Megan Cyr, honored before the game for their contributions to the program, chased errant balls into the stands, exciting the crowd of 548 spectators in their final regular-season appearance at Reynolds Coliseum.
Sophomore outside hitters Dariyan Hopper, Rachel Buckley and Nikki Glass also shouldered their teammates during the comeback, with each hitting double-digit kills.
Hopper had a career-high 23 kills, matching her jersey number, along with a .375 hitting average and 24.5 points. Buckley also posted a career-high with 14 kills and a .440 average. Glass had 13 kills on .229 hitting.
Defensively, three Wolfpack players had 10 or more digs, led by sophomore Alston Kearns and Cyr with 12 each and Hopper with 10.
Cyr had 53 assists in the match, two short of her career high.
“The thing I like so much about this team is that it is resilient,” Bunn said. “Our No. 1 thing is that we want to be tougher than everyone else. We showed that tonight.
“The other thing about this team is that somebody always steps up when we need them. All three of our outsides stepped up tonight.”
The Hokies jumped out to a quick 5-2 lead in the opening set and never gave up the lead. The Pack pulled within 18-16 on a service ace by junior Brie Merriwether, but never got closer in than two points the rest of the set.
The Pack was serving down 22-20, but a kill by Samantha Gostling ended State’s rally and the Hokies held on for a 25-21 win. Both teams were swinging at a high rate, with the Hokies posting a .357 to .324 advantage.
The Hokies maintained their strong play in the second set, with a 25-17 victory to take a 2-0 lead into the break. Tech again never trailed after jumping out to a 4-0 lead and continued to hit the ball well, swinging at a .333 pace to the Wolfpack’s .067.
After the break, the Wolfpack came out like a different team, blitzing the Hokies in a 25-16 victory in the third set and a 25-13 win in the fourth. The Pack trailed only once in those two sets, as Hopper and Glass heated up on their attacks. Hopper had 11 of her 23 in those two sets alone.
As a team, the Pack hit a remarkably consistent .458 and .457 in the third and fourth sets.
The Pack’s service game also improved, as Kearns had two service aces and Glass added another.
When it came time for the fifth set, the Wolfpack was in a familiar position. It had already won two five-set matches this season, coming back from a 2-0 deficit to UNC Wilmington on Sept. 11 and beating Georgia Tech 3-2 on Sept. 28.
And the core of this team was together last season, when the Wolfpack came back from 2-0 deficits to beat both Wisconsin and Georgia Tech, two of the nine five-set matches the team played in 2011.
The final game was tied at 6-6 until the Wolfpack pulled away on kills by Buckley, sophomore Alesha Wilson and Cyr. Hopper moved her team to match point with back-to-back bruising smashes and Virginia Tech ended the contest on an attack error.
“In sets, three, four and five, we had no fear,” Bunn said. “We put them on their hits.”
While the Pack’s placement in the conference standings is cemented, there are still NCAA Championship implications going into Wednesday’s 2 p.m. regular-season finale against North Carolina at Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill.
The Pack has only qualified for the NCAAs once in school history, back in 1987 when it won the ACC Tournament and then lost in the first round at Kentucky.
“It’s a big match up,” Bunn said. “They are pretty much assured of third place and we are assured of fourth. The implications are still there for us on the postseason.
“A win there, I believe, would put us in for sure.”
State posted a 3-1 victory over the Tar Heels in the ACC opener for both teams at Reynolds Coliseum on Sept. 14.