The Ashland University volleyball team overcame a two-set deficit to knock off No. 18 Ferris State, 18-25, 18-25, 25-16, 26-24, 15-11, at a delirious Kates Gymnasium on Saturday (Oct. 26) night.
The win vaults the Eagles (20-4, 9-2 GLIAC) into a tie for second place with Ferris State in the overall GLIAC standings.
In a wild atmosphere, the Eagles fought off four match points and scored six in a row to force a fifth. Ashland scored the first four points of the fifth set, and despite Ferris State (17-5, 9-2 GLIAC) tying it on two occasions at 5-5 and 7-7, the Eagles never trailed. Kills by redshirt-juniors Lexi Lombardo and Brooke Peiffer gave AU match point and a Ferris error sent the Eagles to the victory.
"It may be the proudest I've been of a group of girls, especially in my time here, with the way they responded and played with such intensity, fire and heart," said second-year head coach Kevin Foeman. "It was awesome. Every single person, literally every single person, gave us something, and I'm so proud of them."
The Eagles struggled in the opening two sets as Ferris was able to establish the tempo and build off quick rallies to get into a rhythm. The result was two 25-18 wins for the Bulldogs.
Foeman said he gave the team a simple message in the intermission.
"We're not losing," he said. "It was simple, 'we're not losing.' I was going to use up every second I had in there to fire them up. They fired themselves up. We weren't going away with a loss. We're going to fight, fight, fight. They came out like a train."
The Eagles were on fire in the third set, going out to a 10-5 lead after a kill by sophomore Erin Krupar. The Eagles forced a second timeout by Ferris on Peiffer's kill that gave the hosts a 16-10 lead. Krupar's score gave the Eagles a 25-16 win.
"The atmosphere was phenomenal," Foeman said. "As soon as we came into the third set with fire the atmosphere came up. It's hard (for an opposing team) to play in this atmosphere. You're not going to find much more exciting than that. It was fun."
Ashland trailed almost the entirety of the fourth set, despite getting eight kills from senior Sophi Cudworth. Ferris All-American Allyson Cappel put down a kill to give the Bulldogs match point at 24-20, but Cudworth got a kill and a Ferris error forced Ferris into a timeout.
"The first two sets, we were panicked," Cudworth said. "We were not playing well with each other. Third game, we went downstairs, Coach hyped us up, came up, got on the court and went. All I remember saying is 'point by point.' We went pedal to the medal."
Cappel's hitting error brought it to 24-23 before Krupar nailed a shot to tie it at 24. Cudworth and Lombardo finished the set with kills of their own as junior libero McKinley Smith posted nine digs in the set, including several crucial ones down the stretch.
"When we needed it most, they locked in," said Foeman.
Freshman defensive specialist Abbey Fletcher played her most significant time of the season and was one of three players with at least 20 digs, including six in the fifth set. Smith had a team-high 24 digs and sophomore setter Zoey Peck had 20 and 44 assists.
"We stayed calm," Fletcher said. "That's what we tell each other on the back row. If a ball drops, we've got the next one. That's the mentality."
The comeback against a nationally-ranked conference rival will stand out, but the match will be remembered for the atmosphere as groups of students came out to Kates Gymnasium, some dressed in their Halloween best.
"The swim team and our fan base were awesome," Cudworth said. "Our fan base is amazing, they're so helpful for us. We emphasize that relationship off the court and on the court, and it helps so much for us. It was amazing."
The Eagles will now look to ride the momentum into next week's road trip west as they take on Parkside on Friday (Nov. 1) night in Kenosha, Wis.