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Monarch Volleyball Team Downs Marshall, 3-1, in First Sun Belt Match for ODU

Bob Bradlee

By Harry Minium

NORFOLK, Va. – Although it came against a familiar rival, the Old Dominion volleyball team handily won the historic first Sun Belt Conference athletic event to be held at ODU, swatting down Marshall, 3-1, Thursday night at the ODU Volleyball Center.

ODU joined the Sun Belt in July and the volleyball contest kicked off a round of five home league games.

The volleyball team hosts Marshall again Friday night at 6:30, the football team meets Arkansas State Saturday at 6 at S.B. Ballard Stadium and on Sunday, the men's and women's soccer teams host a doubleheader.

The men face off against James Madison at 12:30 and at 3:30, the women face Georgia Southern.

Marshall and ODU were rivals in Conference USA the last two seasons, and a year ago, the Herd and Monarchs split their series in Huntington, West Virginia. With the win, ODU cuts Marshall's lead in the series to 3-2.

"Marshall is such a challenge for us," ODU head coach Fred Chao said. "We've been putting the work in and been trying to find our level. I'm really pleased with the way we played."

Asked if winning the first Sun Belt game played at ODU was important, Chao smiled as he said, "I think so?

"On a bigger scale, I'm sure it is. But right now, what it means is that our work is paying off.

"We're starting to execute at a better clip."

ODU (6-8 overall, 1-0 Sun Belt) ran away with the first set, 25-13, and led the second set 21-19, before Marshall (6-6, 0-1) tied it up, 27-25. Eden McElhaney got the clinching point for Marshall on a service ace.

ODU led most of the third set, and won 25-20, but trailed much of the way in the fourth set before rallying.

The score was tied 23-all when Myah Conway drilled a kill into the floor, followed by a set-winning serve from Bailey Burgess that was mishandled by the Herd.

Conway, a 6-foot-3 sophomore from Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, led ODU with 18 kills and 22 points.

Ashley Peroe added 12 kills and Burgess, Hailey Duncan and Tessa Mati followed with nine each. Teresa Atilano had 52 assists, marking a new season high.

On defense, Burgess recorded four blocks and Duncan and Atilano added three each. Jamie Bissmeyer tallied 16 digs and Atilano was next with 10.

ODU held the advantage in points (76.0-57.0), kills (60-49), service aces (7-4), blocks (9-4) and assists (56-43). The Monarchs also outhit The Herd, .318 to .181.

Conway said the Monarchs were so focused on beating Marshall they hadn't given that much thought to this being the first Sun Belt home match. She noted that since this is just ODU's third season of volleyball, this team has been through a lot of firsts.

"It's crazy to think about," she said of the first Sun Belt contest. "But we've gone through so many things as a new team and a new program. Everything is new.

"We've been facing a lot of new challenges this season and the team's really been dealing well with it."

By that she referred to ODU's non-conference schedule, in which the Monarchs faced four Power 5 teams with most of their matches on the road. ODU finished with a 5-8 non-conference record, including a 3-2 victory at VCU last week in which ODU won the last two sets.

"We've had a very tough season," she said. "But win or lose, we learned from every match. We played against some really good teams with really good hitters.

"Overall, it made us a better team."

Chao said the Monarchs have made dramatic improvement over the last few weeks.

"We've been able to sustain the level of play," he said "Tonight, Teresa set a really good match.

"We controlled the first pass really, really well for long stretches.

"What I still see is that little dip. Whether it's our focus or our concentration, our ability to stay cohesive and play for each other still has a tendency to fragment a bit.

"But we've made so much improvement."

Every Sun Belt series will consist of back-to-back matches on either Thursday and Friday or on Friday and Saturday.

"It is extremely difficult" to sweep a team, Chao said.

"Adjustments will be made. You might be playing a completely different team, whether it's mentally, emotionally or physically or just different people.

"That's the chess match. Tomorrow night will be a big challenge for us."