LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Trailing by two sets in their first home match of the season on Sunday (Sept. 29), the UALR volleyball team gave the Jack Stephens Center crowd a thrilling comeback victory to reintroduce Little Rock to Trojans volleyball.
Junior Edina Begic had a match-high 23 kills and 18 digs for another double-double, sophomore Sonja Milanovic had 22 kills and 10 digs for a double-double of her own and junior Marleen de Zoete added 57 assists as the Trojans defeated Sun Belt Conference newcomer Georgia State 3-2 (20-25, 22-25, 25-16, 25-21, 15-12).
The teams’ first-ever meeting as conference foes was one to remember, as Georgia State looked strong in the first two sets but the Trojans controlled the final three.
The Panthers (5-11, 0-2 SBC) led 1-0 in the fifth set before the Trojans (9-4, 2-0) took over to win their eighth consecutive match. Begic tallied the kill and went on a five-point service run from there, giving UALR a 6-1 advantage. But the Panthers fought back to make it only a 6-5 Trojans lead. A UALR timeout followed immediately by a Milanovic kill swung the momentum back to UALR. Milanovic and Begic finished the set with four kills each, and Begic would finish the Panthers off with a soft kill floated over two blockers.
UALR is now 20-3 in home Sun Belt openers dating back to 1991. The Trojans eight-match winning streak ties the 1996 and 2008 team for the second longest under head coach Van Compton. UALR had a nine-match run during the 1997 season.
For the match, UALR outhit the Panthers .252-.239, led in kills 67-61 and out blocked GSU 15.5.
To go with her double-double, Begic added a career-best six aces with five assisted blocks. Redshirt freshman Carolee Dillard added a career match-best 12 blocks, three of which were solo. It was also the most blocks for a UALR player in three seasons.
Junior Capri Rino dug out 12 Georgia State attacks.
The Panthers were led by Eliza Zachary’s 21 kills on 31 swings with only five errors (.516). Natalie Nieto notched the double-double with 33 assists and 12 digs while Emily Averbeck had 14 digs.
The teams fought evenly in the first set with neither team holding a lead larger than three points for most of the action. The Panthers got their first lead of the set at 15-14, forcing a UALR timeout. After the timeout, though, Georgia State increased the lead to 17-14 and never led by fewer than two for the rest of the set. Ahead 19-16, the Panthers sealed the set by taking the next three points and putting the Trojans down six points. Begic and Milanovic led UALR with three kills in the first while de Zoete had 12 assists.
After dropping the first set by five, UALR came out much stronger in the second. The team held a 9-4 lead in the early stages, but the Panthers fought back to tie the set at 11-11 and cause the Trojans to use a timeout. Georgia State took the lead from there, and the Trojans played from behind until they managed to tie the set at 20-20. Earlier in the set, Milanovic took a monster swing that the Panthers successfully dug and converted to a point on a block. That gave them a 19-16 advantage, but the Trojans got four of the next five points including a block and kill by Milanovic to force a Georgia State timeout. After the timeout, both teams scored two points to keep a tie at 22-22, but it was all Panthers from there. Two Eliza Zachary kills followed by a UALR attack error handed the set to Georgia State. Begic had nine kills in the set and Milanovic had five more.
The third set began very strong for the Trojans as multiple powerful swings led to an 11-6 lead. Junior Adisa Hodzic, freshman Rachel Williams, Dillard, Milanovic and Begic each had at least one kill in the first 11 points. The Trojans maintained a lead of at least five points for the duration of the set, clawing back into the match. UALR led by as many as 10 points during the set, eventually taking it by nine.
In the frame, UALR converted on 19 of 34 swings with only two errors for a blazing .500 hitting percentage.
The Trojans and Panthers fought a competitive fourth set as Georgia State seemed to regroup from its poor showing in the third. The teams were all square at 1-1, 2-2 and all the way through 11-11. No one held serve for more than one point until junior Allison Wyatt built a 15-11 lead for the Trojans midway through the set behind a kill and a block by Milanovic as well as a service ace of her own. That caused the Panthers to take a timeout, and they kept it close for the rest of the set. But the Trojans were on their game, never letting the Panthers retie the set. With UALR ahead 22-21, Milanovic had two crucial kills to make it set point. A Georgia State attack error handed the set to the Trojans and sent the match to a deciding fifth set.
In the fifth, Dillard recorded two of her three solo block while Williams rejected the Panthers to help the Trojans winits seventh straight SBC match going the distance.
UALR plays host to in-state rival Arkansas State (6-10, 2-0 SBC) on Wednesday night (Oct. 2) at 7 p.m. before hitting the road this weekend. The Trojans play at ULM on Friday and at Troy on Sunday. Arkansas State beat Georgia State and Troy in a pair of five set thrillers this weekend.