SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Nicole Celarek (Bensenville, Ill.) and Keira Moore (Spartanburg, S.C.) combined for 24 kills and seven blocks to lead Gardner-Webb to a gritty five-set win over USC Upstate on Tuesday evening.
"I'm very proud of the fight we displayed tonight, overcoming the loss of our captain and senior early in the match, and fighting back in set three," praised head coach Leo Sayles. "This was a team effort, and our depth paid off."
Gardner-Webb (2-2) won the match by scores of 25-22, 19-25, 25-18, 19-25 and 15-13, as the teams combined for 182 digs and nearly 400 attack attempts in a gritty, defensive battle. USC Upstate (0-4) tallied 98 digs, 50 kills and seven blocks on the night, compared to 84 digs, 55 smashes and 12 stuffs for the Runnin' Bulldogs.
Celarek led the way for Gardner-Webb with 13 kills and eight digs, while Moore put together a career performance with personal-bests of 11 kills and five blocks. Taylor Lillard (Victorville, Calif.) added 10 kills, as Hannah Driscoll (Lake Mary, Fla.) posted seven smashes, five blocks and a .389 hitting percentage. Amanda Sahm (Marion, Iowa) and Tinsley Fain (Boiling Springs, S.C.) dished out 28 and 17 assists, respectively, while Emma Milstead (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Kacy O'Connor (Southport, N.C.) recorded digs totals of 24 and 16.
Madison Haake paced the Spartans with a triple-double, tallying 20 assists, 14 digs and 13 kills, while Emily Koelling and Montana Swanson posted 11 and 10 kills, respectively. Kaleigh Kelley led all players with 35 digs, as Callie Yeargin and Swanson posted 17 and 16 digs, respectively.
The first set proved to be a back-and-forth battle, with USC Upstate taking a 10-7 lead before Gardner-Webb answered with a 10-6 run to claim a narrow 17-16 advantage following back-to-back kills from Celarek and Dyson. The Runnin' Bulldogs kept pushing, stretching the lead to 23-20 on a Lillard smash and an Upstate miscue before taking the set, 25-22, following a Spartan service error.
Upstate fought back early in the second, jumping out to an early 11-8 lead before stretching the margin to 16-10 following three straight errors by the Runnin' Bulldogs. Gardner-Webb would trim the margin to 20-16 on a Celarek smash, before the Spartans regained control and closed out the set, 25-19, to even the match at 1-1.
The Spartans opened the third set with a 9-5 run before Gardner-Webb countered with four straight points, evening the score at 9-9 following a kill from Moore. Gardner-Webb continued to press the attack over the next few minutes, forcing a pair of Upstate timeouts while pushing the lead to 19-12 after a Molly Johnston (Lubbock, Texas) capped the 14-3 surge. The Runnin' Bulldogs would hold off a late spurt from the Spartans before claiming the set, 25-18, following a pair of Upstate miscues to take a 2-1 lead in the match.
Upstate bounced back once again in the fourth, stringing together an 11-2 run to start the set. The Runnin' Bulldogs quickly countered with a 7-2 spurt to pull back within four at 13-9, and force a Spartan timeout following an emphatic kill from Driscoll.
The Spartans responded with another surge, pushing the lead to 22-14 before Gardner-Webb answered with a 4-1 spurt to cut the advantage to 23-18 following a solo stuff by Driscoll. Upstate took a timely breather and managed to stop the bleeding on the other side of the break by forcing a pair of GWU miscues to send the match to a decisive fifth set.
USC Upstate carried the momentum into the fifth, opening the frame with a 5-3 spurt before Gardner-Webb stormed back with a 7-1 surge to take a 10-6 lead behind a trio of Celarek smashes. The Runnin' Bulldogs would stretch the advantage to 12-7 before Upstate answered with a 5-0 run, which evened the tally at 12-12 following back-to-back kills from Koelling. Celarek and the Runnin' Bulldogs stayed calm and reclaimed the momentum out of the ensuing timeout, recording three of the next four points to cap the set and take the match, 3-2.
Gardner-Webb is back in action on Thursday when the Runnin' Bulldogs host nearby Limestone College in their home opener at 7:00 pm in Paul Porter Arena.