Site: West Point, N.Y. (Gillis Field House)
Match One Score: High Point 3, Sacred Heart 0 (25-22, 25-16, 25-20)
Records: HPU 3-1, SHU 2-2
Match Two Score: High Point 3, Columbia 0 (25-23, 26-24, 25-18)
Records: HPU 4-1, COL 0-1
Next HPU Event: Saturday, September 4, 2021 — at Army (West Point, N.Y.), Noon
WEST POINT, N.Y. – The High Point University volleyball team made it four wins in a row after picking up a pair of victories Friday (Sept. 3) on day one of the Black Knights Invitational, hosted by Army.
The Panthers needed only six sets for the two matches, defeating Sacred Heart (25-22, 25-16, 25-20) and Columbia (25-23, 26-24, 25-18) both in straight sets. HPU has now won 12 of its last 13 sets since dropping the season-opener at JMU.
“I’ll always be happy when you get two sweeps to start a four-match weekend but I did not think our focus was great all day,” head coach Ryan Meek said after his team’s first doubleheader matchday of the season. “We played up and down based on the score and I never want to see that. We relied on our lefts too much all day as well as Gabby [Idlebird] and we are at our best when we’re moving the ball around more offensively. We got out with two wins, which is the end goal though, so we’ll be better tomorrow against Army.”
Freshman Sydney Palazzolo and sophomore Dylan Maberry led the offensive attack for the Purple and White, finishing with 25 and 23 kills, respectively, to be the only Panthers with double-digit kills in each match. Maberry was particularly efficient throughout the day and committed only one attack error in the two matches to finish with a .458 hitting percentage when the day was done, with team-best marks of .455 against SHU and .462 against Columbia. High Point deployed both of its primary setters in both matches, with senior Mackenzi Thornburg leading the way with 40 on the day (23 and 17) while junior Maria Miggins was close behind with 35 over the two matches (16 and 19).
Jenny Wessling was the only HPU player with double-digit digs in both matches as she picked up 10 in both. Palazzolo joined her in the tournament’s opening match against the Pioneers with 10 as well. The Panthers totaled 13 blocks as a team over the two matches, led by fellow freshman Jackie Joyce with a total of seven stuffs. She had two solo blocks and a block assist against the Pioneers before tacking on a team-high four block assists against Columbia. Gabrielle Idlebird also had two solo blocks on the day, getting both in the second match as part of a five-block day for the senior, who also contributed 10 kills in the first match of the day.
Neither team gained much traction in the first match of the day until a 6-1 run for the Panthers that included both solo blocks from Joyce gave HPU a 15-9 lead. Sacred Heart stuck around and eventually won six points in a row to level the frame at 22 apiece. High Point was able to recover and a sideout kill from Palazzolo sparked the 3-0 run the Panthers needed, capped off with a kill from Joyce – one of her five in the match – and an ace from Miggins.
Sacred Heart controlled the beginning of the second set and led by four early on, 10-6. HPU battled back and cut the deficit in half before the match took a huge turn in favor of the Purple and White. Trailing 11-13, High Point closed the set on a 14-3 run, led by four kills, an ace, and a block assist from Idlebird and a pair of kills from Palazzolo and Maberry.
The third set with the Pioneers was the most closely contested frame of the match, with seven tied scores and three lead changes occurring. Palazzolo and Maberry were the big guns for the Panthers in the set, putting up five and four kills on the board in the stanza, respectively. Idlebird was the only other member of the Purple and White with multiple kills in the final set as she contributed two. SHU opened a lead halfway through the set before an 8-1 run by HPU pushed High Point into the lead for good. Sacred Heart made it to 20 points before the Panthers could close it out but a block from Idlebird and Palazzolo shut the door on the opening match.
It was the first set that was the most back-and-forth in the second match of the day as there were six lead changes and eight tied scores in the opening frame with Columbia. Neither team led by more than two until a 7-1 run gave the Panthers a 14-10 lead. The Lions eventually tied things back up and then took the lead at 23-22 behind a 4-0 run before a pair of Columbia errors sandwiched around a kill from Maberry gave High Point the set 25-23.
After leading early in the second set, Columbia took control and opened a five-point lead at 13-8. The lead grew to as many as six at 17-11 before the Panthers mounted a late comeback. HPU clawed its way back to make it a one-point affair (21-20) before the Lions won three of the next four to get to set-point, 24-21. A service error gave High Point service and Meek chose to insert Evy Eckensberger into the lineup to serve with the set on the line. The substitution worked as the sophomore served up back-to-back aces to tie the set and then continued to serve for the final two points, with Palazzolo delivering the final kill to complete the comeback, 26-24.
“Evy saved us in the second set,” Meek said of his defensive specialist. “She stays ready all the time and had her moment today and came through for us with four big serves.”
Columbia was charged with a sanction for coming out of the break ahead of the third set too slow, giving HPU an early 1-0 lead before the first ball was served. The Panthers jumped on the lead and won four of the next five to take a 5-1 lead and never trailed in the frame. Columbia tied it up at 8-8 and 9-9 before a four-point run for the Purple and White gave High Point the lead in the set for good as HPU hit .265 on the way to taking the final set, 25-18 for the win.
The Panthers finish the Black Knights Invitational tomorrow (Sept. 4) with a match against hosts Army at noon before traveling over to Connecticut for a match on Sunday (Sept. 5) against Fairfield to conclude the first northeast trip of the season.