TYLER, Texas – Going into a match against the second-ranked team in the nation, Blinn volleyball coach Erin Mellinger knew her team needed more than its regulars to have a standout match.
Rachel Sharp and Katey Kyle helped provided those heroics as the top-ranked Blinn Buccaneers rallied to beat second-ranked Western Nebraska in five sets, 23-25, 14-25, 25-15, 25-23, 15-11 in the opening day of the Tyler Invitational here Friday.
“We needed some others to come in and put pressure on Western Nebraska, and we did,” Mellinger said, who’s team won an earlier match against Redlands Community College to open the tournament.
Sharp, a freshman from Tarkington, Texas, provided the Bucs (20-1) with a double-double with 10 kills and 13 digs. Kyle, a sophomore from Pearland Dawson, posted two kills and two block assists, which Mellinger said came at crucial points in the sets. One of those blocks came in the fourth set with the Bucs trailing 10-8. The block helped spark a 4-0 run to give Blinn a 12-10 lead.
In the fifth set, a Sharp kill made it 3-1 and provide the Bucs the third point, which Mellinger said is one of the most important points in the final set.
“Based on what I’ve seen in my career, besides probably one or two matches in 100, the first team to score third point in the final set often wins the match,” she said.
The match almost didn’t reach a fifth game.
Western Nebraska (25-3) jumped to a 2-0 match lead by negating Blinn’s middle blockers in Bruna Evangelista and Kariana Castanon-Hill by mixing up its serves and disrupting the Bucs passing game. Blinn, though, was able to make adjustments after the second set to take a 25-15 win over the Lady Cougars.
“We finally figured it out, and once we settled into that we got into our rhythm,” Mellinger said.
The Bucs made their adjustments, but Mellinger said she saw the team play with more heart and determination on the court.
Evangelista found a groove and posted a match-high 22 kills, and Castanon-Hill had 16. Crystal Young dished out 54 assists.
It wasn’t just Blinn’s offense that found its rhythm. The defense had four players record double-digit digs as the team posted 74 in the match.
Alyssa LaMont, Evely Macedo and Sharp had 13 digs, and Rebecca Reeve had 10. Young just missed the double-digit club with nine.
“I’m very proud of them,” Mellinger said. “We got better tonight.”
Earlier in the day, the Bucs beat Redlands Community College in three sets to open the tournament, 25-13, 25-20, 25-21.
Evangelista had 15 kills and Castanon-Hill had 10 while posting a match-best .692 hitting percentage. Reeve had nine kills.
The Bucs continue play at the tournament Saturday with a 1 p.m. match against 12th-ranked College of Central at 1 p.m. before playing Cowley College, the top-ranked volleyball team in the NJCAA Division II rankings, at 3 p.m.
Blinn has won 12 straight going into Saturday’s play.