Special to the Times
A host of attack errors plagued the No. 2 Valdosta State volleyball team in the first round of the Gulf South Conference Tournament on Friday night in Pensacola, Fla., and the No. 7 North Alabama Lions took full advantage of the opportunity, as they knocked off Valdosta State with a 3-1 victory.
Valdosta State jumped out to an early 1-0 lead after a 25-23 set win in which the Blazers showed signs of play that backed up their high seeding heading into the conference tournament. Jenna Kirkwood swung for a .333 percentage in the first frame, but the Lions made the necessary adjustments, as they held Kirkwood to a .091 percentage in the final three sets.
After falling 25-21 in the second frame, the Blazers appeared as if they would bounce back in the third set. But VSU's 14-9 lead diminished quickly after an 8-1 run by UNA which allowed the Lions to take a 16-15 lead. From that point on, the Lions rolled, driven by by Megan Gorey, Natasha Fomina, and Victoria Quintanilla, who combined for 42 of North Alabama's 59 kills on the night. The match concluded with a convincing 25-15 UNA win in the fourth and final set.
The Blazers leaned heavily on Kirkwood, setting up VSU's All-GSC outside hitter up for 46 attempts on the night, but the Lions delivered one of their strongest defensive performances of the year to counter the attack. Shelby Ksiazek turned in six block assists to lead her team to a total of ten blocks, while Shantel Federick picked up 19 of the Lions' 69 digs in the match. These efforts, combined with a .120 hitting percentage and 26 attack errors by Valdosta State, put the Blazers in a trailing position throughout the majority of the contest.
Valdosta State's leading hitter on the night was Ashley Lala, who put up a .250 percentage to go along with four assists, 14 digs, and two block assists. Jessica Codato finished with 31 assists, and Krista Bradford picked up a team high 18 digs on the night.
The loss brings the Blazers to the conclusion of a 2013 season in which Valdosta State finished with a 19-14 overall record, and a 10-8 finish in GSC play. VSU will head to 2014 with the promise of a strong push under first year head coach, Mike Swan, and a host of returnees for next year's campaign.