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Volleyball Tops Middle Tennessee 3-1 in Season Finale

Keith Lucas

NORFOLK, Va. – The Old Dominion volleyball team finished the 2021 season on a high note with a 3-1 win over Middle Tennessee inside the ODU Volleyball Center on Saturday afternoon. The four-set victory on Saturday handed the Monarchs (13-13, 5-7 C-USA) a weekend sweep of the Blue Raiders (8-10, 6-6).
"This team responds," head coach Fred Chao said. "They respond to sport, they respond to competitiveness, they respond to everything. You get the opportunity to play in a match, so play your hardest. It doesn't matter if there is a consequence at the end of it or not because that's not how we talk about the game. We do talk about how we approach the next point, and they really take that to heart."
ODU hit .244 as a team while limiting MTSU to a .067 attacking percentage. The Monarchs tallied 13 blocks, logged 51 total digs and forced 30 attack errors from the Blue Raiders.
Freshman Myah Conway paced Old Dominion in kills for the second day in a row with 15 and did so on a .333 attacking percentage. In her two matches against the Blue Raiders, Conway averaged 3.88 kills per set while hitting .371.
"Myah is figuring it out without us walking her through it, without the individual guidance that we can give her in the spring," Chao said. "It's fantastic. She's a talent, and we're fortunate that we get a chance to work with her."
Playing in her final collegiate match, Alessia Sgherza joined Conway in double figures with 12 kills and chipped in eight digs as well. The graduate student from Massa, Italy ends her two-year ODU career with 438 total kills.
The Monarchs took five of the first six points in the first set and cruised to a 25-13 victory. Old Dominion totaled four blocks in the first set while holding the Blue Raiders to a -.028 attack percentage and nine hitting errors. Conway and Sgherza combined for seven of ODU's 11 kills in the opener.
As was the case on Friday night, MTSU leveled the match with a 25-21 second-set win. The second set was tight throughout and featured nine ties and a pair of lead changes. The Blue Raiders won the opening point and stayed ahead until the Monarchs scored four unanswered, highlighted by two Hailey Duncan kills, to go on top 8-7. Old Dominion stayed on top and built a three-point advantage at 14-11 before MTSU countered with a 5-0 run to go ahead 16-14, a lead it would not relinquish. The Monarchs tied the score one final time at 17-all, but the Blue Raiders took the next three points to give them the needed separation to close out the set.
ODU slammed the door on the Blue Raiders with a 25-17 win in the third set. The Monarchs hit .500 in the set with 15 kills on 28 total swings while limiting MTSU to a .071 attacking percentage. Olivia De Jesus came on strong in the third set with five of her six kills and four total blocks (one solo, three assists). De Jesus opened the set with a kill as the Monarchs quickly built a 4-0 lead. The Blue Raiders hung around and were down only two at 14-12 before ODU won 10 of the final 15 points of the set. Up 18-14, the Monarchs went on a 6-1 run to bring up set point. MTSU scored the next two points before committing an attack error to give the set to ODU.
Old Dominion broke a 10-all tie in the fourth set with a 6-1 run then held off the Blue Raiders late for the 25-23 set win. The Monarchs led 22-18 before MTSU pulled to within one at 22-21. The two sides traded the next three points to bring up match point for ODU at 24-22. A service error kept the Blue Raiders alive, but MTSU returned the favor on the next point, sailing a serve out of bounds to end the match.
Duncan just missed hitting double-digits in kills, finishing the match with nine while attacking at a .438 clip and adding four blocks. Teresa Atilano filled the box score with a 39-assist, 11-dig double-double as well as three blocks and two kills. Madeline Rudd also chipped in nine kills and two block assists.
Starting her third-consecutive match at libero, Anna Burkhardt led the Monarchs with 13 digs and finishes the season with 13 double-digit dig matches. The native of Fort Wayne, Indiana averaged 3.63 digs per set against Middle Tennessee.
"It's a testament to her work ethic," Chao said. "She came in and got beat out in the spring and had her tough moments, but she got through it. She kept working hard and did everything that was in her control and never had any issue with the decisions we made as a coaching staff. She's done the work. She has the confidence. She's transcended what's out of her control, and she knows what she can do."
While the Monarchs barely missed out on qualifying for the Conference USA Tournament, they do finish the 2021 season with a .500 record, a four-match improvement from their inaugural season.
"I knew it would be extremely challenging," Chao said. "We set some lofty goals, and the program is really well-supported. You can't be disappointed when everyone is so ecstatic over what you're doing and what the team represents."
Old Dominion serves as host of the 2021 Conference USA Volleyball Championship, which runs Nov. 19-21.