High Point VB Upends Spartans in Big South Opener

Site: Spartanburg, S.C. (G.B. Hodge Center)
Score: High Point 3, USC Upstate 1 (25-21, 25-14, 25-13, 25-15)
Records: HPU 9-5 (1-0 Big South), UPST 3-10 (0-1 Big South)
Next HPU Event: Saturday, September 25, 2021 — at UNC Asheville (Asheville, N.C.), 2 p.m.

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The High Point University volleyball team opened the Big South portion of its 2021 schedule with a four-set victory over USC Upstate Friday evening (Sept. 24).

High Point looked took the first set by four before dominating the Spartans in the second set, 25-14. Upstate didn’t go down easily and rode nine service aces in the frame to a 25-13 win to force a fourth set. HPU flipped that right back around on the hosts with five aces in the fourth while hitting .400 with a sideout rate of 73% to take the match with a 25-15 victory in the set.

The win makes it 13 consecutive wins in Big South matches away from the Millis Center dating back to the 2019 season for the Panthers, matching the program record for the most consecutive road conference wins. It also pushes High Point’s overall Big South winning streak to 17 matches, three away from tying the program record of 20 consecutive wins that spanned from the 2016 season to the 2018 season. HPU’s 17 consecutive conference wins is currently the third-longest such streak in the country behind Western Kentucky (34) and Texas (22).

“We talk all the time as a team about a response and I thought we did that tonight,” head coach Ryan Meek said after his team’s start in conference play. “Upstate served at an elite level in the third set that put us on our heels and made everything tough for us. They had incredible serving and incredible floor defense. I thought we were able to regroup in the fourth set and get back to playing High Point volleyball. We got our ball control back on track and made some gritty defensive plays that got us going emotionally. We need to remember the grit and tenacity it takes to win at this level at all times. We’ll need it tomorrow against Asheville.”

Three Panthers had double-digit kills in the match, led by senior Gabrielle Idlebird with 12 – the second time she’s led the Purple and White in kills this season. Just behind her were Dylan Maberry and Sydney Palazzolo with 10 each and South Carolina native Maggie Salley with nine. Mackenzi Thornburg made it seven matches in a row that she’s led the team in assists with 23 in Friday’s match for also her seventh match of the season with at least 20 helpers. Maria Miggins pitched in with 17 assists and seven kills with a team-best .400 hitting percentage.

Palazzolo served up a career-high four service aces in the match for the most any Panther has had all season and a trio of defensive specialists each had multiple aces to give HPU a total of 11 in the match to hit double digits for the first time this year. Jenny Wessling had a career-best three aces to go with a team-best 12 digs while Connelly Renfrow and Evy Eckensberger each had a pair of aces. Only two members of the Purple and White had multiple blocks in Idlebird and Jackie Joyce, with Joyce picking up High Point’s only solo block in the contest on a joust on an overpass in the second set.

Upstate led in the early goings of the first set before a 16-3 run for the Panthers blew the frame wide open. High Point trailed 12-8 before a kill from Palazzolo kicked off nine straight Panther points that featured three of the four service aces from the freshman to make it 17-12 HPU. The Spartans got the next two before the Purple and White won the next six, with Eckensberger picking up both of her aces in the middle of the run. An Upstate service error put the Panthers on set point but the Spartans rallied to win the next six and make it a three-point affair before a deep serve gave High Point the set.

A big swing in the second set was the recipe for success again for the Panthers as a 12-2 run in the middle of the frame made it 17-6. HPU led by one, 6-5, before taking the next seven points with a trio of kills from Palazzolo and one of Renfrow’s aces. Upstate finally won another point before the Purple and White took four in a row thanks to three kills from Salley to extend the lead to double digits. High Point maintained at least a seven-point lead for the duration of the frame and came away with its fourth victory of 11 or more points in a set this season.

Upstate took an early lead in the third set but High Point leveled the score at six and had a 9-7 lead before the Spartans’ serving heated up and changed the tune of the stanza. The hosts went on an 11-1 run with five service aces and then rattled off five more in a row with three service aces after HPU took back two points to have a 23-12 lead in the frame. High Point only managed one more point off of a kill from Idlebird before the Spartans got the two points they needed to take the set and force a fourth between the two.

The fourth set saw the most back-and-forth action of the four frames, with the score tied five times and the lead changing hands four times. HPU trailed by three, 8-5 before a four-point run with back-to-back aces from Wessling flipped the lead back to the Purple and White. Upstate won the next two to retake the lead before HPU won five of the next six to take it back for good. High Point’s lead stayed at three or fewer all the way up to 16-14 before the Panthers closed the match with a 9-1 run to open conference play with a victory.

HPU will look to set a program benchmark for consecutive conference wins on the road when the Panthers head to Asheville tomorrow (Sept. 25) to face UNC Asheville at 2 p.m.