CHARLESTON, S.C. — Sophomore Emma Milstead (Knoxville, Tenn.) celebrated her debut at libero with a four-set single-match record 37 digs, as Gardner-Webb set a new overall four-set record with 107 team digs in a gritty 3-1 win over Robert Morris Friday on the first day of the 2016 Bulldog Battle, hosted by The Citadel.
"Our first match was a dig-fest," commented head coach Leo Sayles. "We knew coming into the weekend that we were doing well defensively. RMU is just as strong with their back row play and passing. We had to work for our points, but I like the fight this team has. A match like this can carry us a long way. Our serve helped us tremendously, as we forced RMU out of system. Emma [Milstead] led the charge defensively, and Taylor Lillard showed fierce determination with a career-high of 25 digs."
Gardner-Webb (1-0) won the match by scores of 25-21, 18-25, 26-24 and 25-16, as the Runnin' Bulldogs held Robert Morris (0-1) to 57 kills and a hitting percentage of .153 in 203 attempts. The teams combined for a whopping 222 digs (115 for Robert Morris, 107 for Gardner-Webb, as the Runnin' Bulldogs totaled 60 kills and eight blocks while hitting .167.
Milstead led the way 37 digs and two service aces as she set a new program-record for digs in a four-set - surpassing all-time leader Anna Pashkova's previous mark of 32 digs that was set last season. Senior Taylor Lillard (Victorville, Calif.) added 15 kills and a career-high 25 digs, while Amanda Sahm (Marion, Iowa) posted a double-double with 39 assists and 17 digs. Nicole Celarek (Bensenville, Ill.) and Jene Lee (San Dimas, Calif.) tallied 15 and 12 kills, respectively, as Kaelyn Dyson (Holly Springs, N.C.) recorded 10 kills and six blocks.
Arden Fisher paced Robert Morris with 18 kills and 33 digs, while Leah Dunivan added 14 kills and Taylor Lord posted a double-double with 12 kills and 24 digs. Brianna Frakes dished out 47 assists and chipped in 14 digs.
The first set proved to be a seesaw battle, with the lead changing hands nearly every other point through the early and middle stages of the period. A Lee smash would break a 15-15 deadlock and swing the momentum firmly to the GWU side of the net, as the kill spurred the Runnin' Bulldogs on a 9-3 run to open a 24-18 lead. Robert Morris would trim the margin to 24-21 with three straight points before Lillard capped the set with a smash to give Gardner-Webb a 1-0 lead.
Robert Morris fought back with a much improved second set, as the Colonials strung together a 10-4 run midway through the frame to open a 20-12 lead on a smash from Lord. A quick 4-0 spurt from the Runnin' Bulldogs cut the margin to 20-16 before Robert Morris responded with a 5-2 stretch to even the match at 1-1.
Gardner-Webb answered right back in the third, opening a 14-9 lead on three straight kills from Lillard and Hannah Driscoll (Lake Mary, Fla.) before Robert Morris countered with a 5-2 spurt to close the gap to 16-14.
The momentum swung back-and-forth with nearly every point over the next several minutes, as the Colonials answered a Celarek smash with three straight tallies to even the score at 23-23. The Runnin' Bulldogs wasted little time in responding, scoring three of the next four points to break the deadlock and take a 2-1 lead in the match on a solo stuff from Lillard.
Sayles' squad carried the momentum into the fourth, answering an early 3-0 spurt from Robert Morris with seven straight points to take a 7-3 lead following a Lillard kill. The Runnin' Bulldogs would push the margin to 20-10 with a 13-7 run over the next several minutes, capping the stretch with another smash from Lillard before a Celarek kill closed out the set and the match moments later.
Gardner-Webb is scheduled to play one more match on Friday evening against Morehead State in the final match of the day at the 2016 Bulldog Battle. First serve is tentatively scheduled for 9:20 pm.