The #2 Concordia volleyball team opened play in the 23rd Annual ASICS/Wyndham Hotel Labor Day Classic on Friday, August 31 with an afternoon matinee with Illinois Tech and a nightcap with #3 Lee University (TN) inside CU Arena on the Concordia campus.
The Eagles handled IIT with little problems, winning in three sets (25-16, 25-6, 25-15). Brooke Marino led CU with nine kills, three digs, three block assists, and a .333 hitting percentage. Madison Ekis added seven kills and a. 500 hitting percentage. Briana Hughes had five kills, Jessica Israel had five, Reanna Schelhaas had two, and Alex Bozoian added four. Hughes led the Eagles with a .833 hitting percentage.
Illinois Tech was feisty to begin the first set, but Concordia settled in and took control of the match for the remainder. CU hit .436 as a team, and .480 and .538 in the last two sets. They held IIT to a -.093 hitting percentage on the match.
It was a solid win, but the Eagles knew the big show came later in the night.
#3 Lee advanced to the NAIA Tournament Semifinals in 2011 and nearly upended eventual national champion #1 Texas at Brownsville. The Concordia students packed their half of the court on Friday and created a very festive environment, considering it was in tournament format.
On Friday, 2011 NAIA Player of the Year Brooke Marino led the Eagles with 13 kills and All-American Fei Gao followed suit with 10 winners. Ekis added nine and Alex Bozoian stepped up big with five. Gao had 10 digs, Marino and setter Elizabeth Younglove had seven, and libero Kara Vincitorio had 17. Gao and Le Mi had two blocks each.
Lee came out ready to play and CU fell behind 6-4 early on an attack error. An attack error knotted it a 9-9 and the squads went back and forth, until the Lady Flames pulled ahead 17-14 on a CU attack error. CU used a timeout and worked back to 18-18 on a Jordan Smith service ace. Concordia took a 22-20 lead on a Marino service ace and held the two-point advantage to a 25-23 win. CU hit .286 in the set, compared to .367 for LU.
The Eagles were more comfortable in the second set, but Lee had a late run in them. CU raced to a 10-6 lead on a Marino kill on a Jenee Henderson pass. The Eagles led 15-6 on a Bozoian kill. CU went up 19-9 on a Lee error, but the Flames would come storming back. They went on a 8-2 run to pull within 20-17 on a LU service ace. Two more Lee kills made it 21-19 Concordia. Two Marino kills, and kills by Ekis and Mi ended the match 25-22. CU hit .118 and Lee hit .059, as both teams struggled mightily at different times in the set.
CU dominated set three, jumping to a 11-4 lead capped by a Bozoian kill from Liz Younglove. A Marino kill made it 15-6 CU, and Lee saved their timeouts, excepting their fate in the early season. The teams played fairly square to the 25-13 finish. Concordia lit it up with a .429 hitting percentage, while Lee struggled at .065. CU hit .246 on the match, while Lee came in at .143.
"Lee really took us to the limit in the first two sets," CU head coach Dan Fisher said. "They will be a very good team come nationals. I thought our outside hitters, Marino and Gao, really stepped up their games. Tonight against the best team we've seen, they really brought it, and that was probably the difference."
The#2 Eagles improved to 10-0 on the young season and picked up their fourth win against a Top 25 opponent. Concordia is back in action tomorrow for the final day of the classic. CU will face UC Merced at 11 AM and Westminster (UT) at 5 PM.
Around the NAIA
• Seven teams, Concordia (Calif.), Indiana East, Embry-Riddle (Fla.), Spring Hill (Ala.), Grand View (Iowa), Missouri Baptist and Westmont (Calif.) are the only undefeated teams in the Top 25.