Syracuse Wins First Ever Tournament Match, No. 8 Penn State Up Next
By Justin Paura
CitrusTV Volleyball Reporter
STATE COLLEGE, P.A.—Syracuse heard their name called on Selection Sunday for the first time ever earlier this week and Friday they made the most of their inaugural opportunity. In their first round matchup, the Orange (1-0) took down Yale (0-1) in straight sets to advance to the second stage of the NCAA Tournament.
As per usual, SU outworked their opponent on the defensive side of the ball. They won the block battle 12-3 and had nine more digs than the Bulldogs while holding them to 19.8% hitting. The offense wasn’t too shabby either, hitting 34.7% and only committing eight errors. Leading the show was none other than the ACC first teamer Polina Shemanova. The conference freshman of the year led the team with 12 kills and 12 digs along with having five blocks from the outside. ACC second teamer Amber Witherspoon had a team-high six blocks and nine kills, four of those kills being in the first set.
The Orange came out firing immediately as the 17-year-old Shemanova got things going with a kill to start the game. After that, Yale got consecutive kills and the teams continued to exchange blows throughout the set. With the set tied at 21 apiece, senior Kelley Wirth committed a ball handling error, then Syracuse got back-to-back blocks from senior Santita Ebangwese to put them ontop and eventually carry them to the 25-22 victory.
Set number two went a lot differently. Yale was the team that gained the upper hand early, using a 4-0 run to take a 9-6 advantage. A service error halted the run, then the Bulldogs went on another run to extend their lead to five. Syracuse trailed 18-14 until something clicked that gave them a spark of life. Ebangwese picked up three straight kills before Ella Saada stuffed Frances Anrautou with a solo block to tie the game up. Yale was forced into calling a timeout, but not even the stoppage could stop the Orange attack. They put up four more straight points to cap off an 8-0 run that gave them a 22-18 lead. Syracuse would proceed to win the set 25-21 behind a valiant comeback with 15 kills.
SU matched those 15 kills from the second set in the third, but did so on nearly 10% better hitting. Leonid Yelin’s squad did not trail once in the set and kept the Bulldogs at bay with just a 15.2% hitting percentage. They took the game with a 25-16 win to snap Yale’s 11-match win streak and advance to the second round of the NCAA Touranment.
Awating the Orange in the next stage are the hosts of the preliminary rounds, eighth ranked Penn State. The Nittany Lions took care of business by sweeping Howard after SU’s match to advance in the bracket. The two face off at 7 p.m Saturday night.
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