Golden Eagles hold on long enough to rally late, close out home slate with dramatics

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SILOAM SPRINGS, Ark. -- Two sets featured extra volleyball, but the John Brown University volleyball team found a way to win both and ran away with a three-set sweep (25-21, 30-28, 27-25) and capped off a dramatic regular-season home finale on Tuesday (Oct. 25) night inside Bill George Arena.

Despite hitting just .170 (47-17-176) on the evening, the Golden Eagles (17-11, 8-7 SAC) rode a trio of hitters that attacked at a combined .276 percent clip and although the hosts trailed late in sets two and three, JBU responded to keep its hopes alive of hosting a Sooner Athletic tournament quarterfinal match at Bill George Arena.

The hosts had its best outing of the evening in the first set, posting a .189 attack percentage, and limited MACU (10-17, 2-13) to its worst of the night, .188 percent. After running out to a 17-11 lead, the Evangels came charging back to pull within three, 23-20. Kills from senior Molli Pugh and freshman Megan Beck closed the first set with minimal drama.

The second stanza, however, is where the tension grew. A 7-1 JBU rally blew open the set to feature a 15-8 lead. However, after a MACU timeout, the visitors responded with an 8-2 response to pull within two, 18-16. Another late 5-1 run by Mid-America produced a 22-21 lead for the Evangels, but two attack errors and an ace from junior Beth Brankle kept the Golden Eagles in contention.

Five ties and five lead changes later, the game was still knotted, this time at 28. Finally a timely Beck kill followed by an ace from freshman Elizabeth Williams ended the rollercoaster affair.

The tension grew even more in the third as the hosts maintained a sizeable advantage through the earlygoings, including a 6-1 run that blew open a 7-7 tie into a 13-8 lead. The Golden Eagles slowly chipped away, and down three, 21-18, finally made its move. Fueled by a Kennedy Shelstead termination, one of her 10 on the night, and a trio of kills from freshman Carly McKinney helped lead a 5-0 charge, handing the lead back over to JBU, 23-21.

With match point on the line, 24-22, the Evangels rattled off three straight, looking to extend the match. Again, the Golden Eagles showed resolve, taking advantage of a pair of MACU errors and a Pugh kill to close the match.

"I'm proud of how the team battled tonight and showed some composure and grit in the moments of the second and third set where MACU had the opportunity to win both times," said head coach Ken Carver. "Earlier in our season, moments like that probably would have ended in missed opportunities by our team. So tonight's match, while not the prettiest and best effort on our part, showed growth and learning, which hopefully bodes well moving forward as we wrap up our regular season.

"I felt the team did a good job of locating our serves and making it difficult on MACU to run their preferred offense, but to their credit, they hustled and did a good job of executing out of system. Beth worked her tail off defensively tonight and kept a lot of MACU attack attempts from being converted into kills while Carly and Kennedy had outstanding performances offensively."

Brankle finished with a team-best 26 digs, marking the sixth-consecutive time exceeding the 20-dig plateau. Williams dished out 21 assists while junior Alyssa Arnold passed 19 to accompany 10 digs, earning her a third-straight double-double.

This win helps to move us closer to where we want to be by the end of next weekend and the conclusion of the regular season," Carver added. "We will still need to work on being consistent and elevating our level of play, but this was a great win to close out our regular home season schedule."

McKinney launched her third-consecutive double-double with a team-leading 14 kills and 17 digs. Pugh added 11 terminations while Shelstead added a pair of aces to her bottom line.

Shannon Neimeier notched 13 kills while Laurel Church and Larissa Runyan each added 12 terminations in the loss for MACU. Melissa Hoppal passed out 30 assists and Camera Broadnax scooped a match-best 29 digs as the Evangels posted a .232 percent attack in the setback.

The Golden Eagles return to action on Thursday (Oct. 27), kicking off a season-ending three-match road trip. JBU begins with Bacone (Okla.) and finish next week with St. Gregory's (Okla.) and Science & Arts (Okla.). John Brown needs to win out and get some help from others in order to host a quarterfinal match in Siloam Springs the following week.

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