JONESBORO, Ark. - When the Trojans and Red Wolves went to the fifth set, there was only one stat that mattered: UALR was 5-4 and Arkansas State was 1-0 in matches going the distance. The Trojans experience came up aces in the fifth.
UALR (11-12, 7-4 Sun Belt) fought off three match points by Arkansas State (16-11, 6-5 SBC) in the fourth and shook off a slow fifth-set start for a 23-25, 25-22, 15-25, 27-25, 15-6 win over the Red Wolves Sunday afternoon at the Convocation Center in Jonesboro, Ark.
The win clinches a berth in the Sun Belt Tournament for UALR and gives the Trojans a one-game lead in the SBC West.
"I think the team proved something to themselves today," head coach Van Compton explained. "We were down 2 [sets] to 1 and 24-22 in the fourth set and came back to win. We had the momentum going into the fifth set.
"This match proved if you keep working and working and if you believe you can, you will win more often than not," Compton added.
The rally actually started in the fourth with ASU clinging to a 24-22 lead. A Red Wolves error and sophomore Adisa Hodzic kill tied the match. Begic served the ball out for Arkansas State's third match point, but kills by senior Eva Xie and sophomore Edina Begic around an error by ASU tied the match at two.
In the fifth,UALR trailed 3-1 to begin a set for the fourth time in the match, but UALR slammed the door shut with a 13-3 run. Begic cut the deficit in half with a kill and an ASU error tied the frame. Both teams sided out when a pair of kills by Xie gave UALR the lead for good. At 10-6, UALR tallied five straight on a trio of Xie kills with an assisted block by sophomore Marleen de Zoete and senior Daniele Souza Moura ended the marathon.
Xie and Hodzic matched career highs with 21 and 17 kills, respectively. Begic added the double-double with 13 kills and 16 digs while de Zoete added the double dip with 53 assists and 10 digs. Also reaching double-digits in digs were Souza Moura (13), senior Emily Pepperman (11) and sophomore Allison Wyatt (10).
For Arkansas State, Allison Kearney led the team with 59 assists and 23 digs. Five different Red Wolves were in double-digits in kills, led by Taylor Szpulski with 16. Jasmine Terry added 14 while Marie Hadar, Kelsey Sullivan and Kelsie Hodges each had 13.
Despite being outhit .261-.247 and out dug 85-71, UALR was able to win the battle of the block 7-4.
The first set saw UALR take a 15-12 advantage. Kills by Szpuski, Kearney and Hodges in the next four points tied the set at 16. Both teams were neck and neck before ASU retook the 20-19 lead on a UALR attack error. UALR took the 22-21 edge on a Xie kill off an overpass, but a pair of ASU kills and a Trojan error put the Red Wolves on a pair of set points. UALR repelled one but a kill by Sullivan gave ASU the set.
In set two, UALR trailed by as much as five and faced an 18-14 deficit when a service error put Souza Moura behind the line. She effectively served short to disrupt the Red Wolves serve-receive game and allowed UALR to register three kills (Hodzic two and Begic one). Coupled with an ASU ball-handling error, UALR fought back for the 19-18 edge, its first lead in the set. Tied at 22, a Hodzic and Xie killed followed by a Souza Moura-senior Sawyer Schaedig block tied the match headed into intermission.
UALR and ASU stood tied at 3-3 in the third before three Trojan blocking errors in four points helped vault the home team to a 7-4 advantage. Arkansas State turned in long service runs and led by as much as 12 in claiming the 25-15 win in the third. The Red Wolves outhit UALR .447-.242 in the frame.
Before the amazing rally in the fourth, UALR led by as much as seven in a very odd set. Down 4-3, a Hodzic kill tied the match and put Begic on serve. After an ASU attack error, Begic went on a 4-0 run herself with four aces. Later in the set, the odd happenings continued. With UALR up 11-6, Pepperman got a hand to keep the ball alive. Begic then fell but put a perfectly-headed ball over the net. A few plays later, Xie slammed home a kill for the improbable Trojan point. ASU rallied and led 24-22 before UALR mounted its own rally for the set win.
UALR improved to 6-4 in five-set matches, including 5-0 in Sun Belt Conference play. It was UALR's fifth-straight win when a match goes the distance. UALR also had a service run of five or more points for the 10th time in conference play this season. The Trojans won each time.
"There was several times in the match we could have given up but the team was willing to fight through it. When hard work meets opportunity, you have success. That is what we did this match," Compton said.
UALR gets another full week off before returning to action when it hosts Louisiana-Lafayette for senior day. Match time is set for 2 p.m.