Burlington, N.C. - The Gardner-Webb volleyball team split a pair of matches on day two of the Elon Phoenix Classic Saturday, as the Runnin' Bulldogs fell in straight sets to Alabama, 3-0, in the morning contest and then bounced back to defeat North Carolina Central, 3-1, in the afternoon match in Burlington, N.C.
The split puts GWU at 1-6 overall on the season, as all seven matches have come on the road for the Runnin' Bulldogs.
Junior middle blocker Tyler Cockrell was named to the All-Tournament Team.
Match 1: Alabama 3, Gardner-Webb 0
Gardner-Webb had four student-athletes post four kills or more, yet could not overcome the offense of the Alabama Crimson Tide, as the Runnin' Bulldogs fell in straight sets (25-17, 25-15, 26-24) on Saturday morning at the Elon Phoenix Classic in Burlington, N.C.
The Tide posted 47 kills over the three set match, 19 kills more than the Runnin' Bulldogs, and also totaled a seven team blocks at the net against the Gardner-Webb offense.
Junior middle blocker Cockrell posted seven kills and three total blocks, while fellow classmate Erin Anderson had six kills on nine attempts for the match. Sophomore setter Heather Feldman dished out 24 set assists, while freshman libero Anna Pashkova recorded a team-high 10 digs in the loss.
Alabama had two players with double digit kills in Pricilla Duke-Ezeji with 13 and Laura Steiner with 12, while setter Sierra Wilson just missed out on a double-double with 39 assists and nine digs for the match.
GWU started off on the right foot in the opening set, jumping out to a 2-0 lead on a Tyra Montour kill and an Alabama attack error. However, Alabama would then use a 7-3 run, capped off by a kill from Steiner, to take the lead from Gardner-Webb at 7-5.
Gardner-Webb answered with a 3-0 run of its own led by freshmen Callie Hildebrand and Montour to retake the lead at 8-7, only to have the Crimson Tide counter with an 11-4 run over the Runnin' Bulldogs to pull out to its largest lead of the set at 18-11.
GWU would cut the Alabama lead to as low as four at 18-14 on a service ace from Pashkova, yet would not get any closer as the Crimson Tide held on for the 25-17 set victory.
The Runnin' Bulldogs got off to a slow start in the second set, as a kill by senior Carolina Solano was the lone point for GWU early, as Alabama ran out to a 5-1 lead on back-to-back kills from Duke-Ezeji and Andrea McQuaid.
A 3-1 run by GWU, which included kills by Hildebrand and Solano, cut the Alabama lead to two at 6-4. However, the Crimson Tide had an answer for every Gardner-Webb point over the next several rallies and slowly increased its lead to 15-9 on two consecutive kills.
Gardner-Webb would take advantage of two Alabama errors over the next several possessions, yet the Runnin' Bulldogs' offense struggled to put any points on the board as Alabama used a 5-2 run to increase its lead to eight at 19-11.
Out of a GWU timeout, the Runnin' Bulldogs posted three straight points to cut the Alabama lead to five at 19-14 and looked poised to make a late run at the Tide. However, Alabama had different plans, as the Crimson Tide finished the set out on a 6-1 run highlighted by three kills to earn the 25-15 set two win.
A Montour kill led off the third set, while three straight Alabama errors pushed the Runnin' Bulldogs in front by three at 5-1 and forced the Tide to call an early timeout.
After a kill by Alabama's Steiner halted the GWU scoring run, two more errors by the Crimson Tide and a kill by GWU's Cockrell extended the Runnin' Bulldogs lead to six at 8-2.
Yet the Runnin' Bulldogs couldn't pull away, as GWU posted four straight errors to allow Alabama back into the set at 8-6.
An Alabama service ace cut the GWU lead to one at 8-7 and forced a Runnin' Bulldog timeout, as head coach Leo Sayles and his group tried to regroup.
Kills from Emily Holte, Hildebrand, Cockrell and Anderson over the next several rallies pushed the Runnin' Bulldogs in front by three at 12-9, yet the set of runs continued, as Alabama responded with a 10-4 run to take a 19-16 set lead and force GWU to use its final timeout of the period.
After an attack error by Gardner-Webb out of the break pushed Alabama's lead to four at 20-16, a kill by Anderson jump started a 6-2 run, putting the Runnin' Bulldogs back in a tie with the Tide at 22-22.
The Runnin' Bulldogs again tied the set up at 23-23, on a Crimson Tide service error, and then again at 24-24 on a Holte kill, yet couldn't fend off the next two match points as Alabama escaped with the 26-25 set win and a 3-0 match victory.
"Not a bad match at all, as Alabama is a solid team from the SEC," commented Coach Sayles. "They seized any opportunities that developed. But we started to see our offense click and saw great effort as a team. Even with the loss, I give the girls credit for competing."
Match 2: Gardner-Webb 3, N.C. Central 1
The Runnin' Bulldogs had a trio of student-athletes record double digit kills, as GWU picked up its first win of the season, 3-1 (25-17, 25-27, 27-25, 25-16), over the Lady Eagles of N.C. Central.
Cockrell recorded a match-high 18 kills, while Anderson added a career-high 15 kills and Solano added 10 kills for the Runnin' Bulldogs. Feldman dished out a season-high 54 assists, while Pashkova tied her career-high with 18 digs.
The Lady Eagles were led by a trio of student-athletes in Christine Anthony, D. Rondon Arrufat and Denni Johnson, who all had double-digit kills for the match.
Gardner-Webb got off to a quick start in the opening set of its second match of the day, as five different players recorded at least one kill to guide the Runnin' Bulldogs on a 5-0 run and take an 11-6 lead over the Lady Eagles.
After an N.C. Central timeout, the Runnin' Bulldogs scored back-to-back points to run out to a 13-6 lead on a kill by Anderson.
Kills by Cockrell, Anderson and junior middle blocker Amanda Murphy pushed the Runnin' Bulldogs in front by a score of 18-9 and forced another timeout by the Lady Eagles.
The two teams then traded points back-and-forth with neither team stringing together a series of points, as N.C. Central cut the Gardner-Webb lead to six at 22-16.
Refusing to relinquish the lead, the Runnin' Bulldogs picked up kills from Anderson and Feldman en route to a 25-17 set win and a 1-0 match lead.
After falling behind 2-0 in the second set on back-to-back errors, the Runnin' Bulldogs got kills from Anderson and Solano to tie the score up at 4-4, only to have N.C. Central respond with two straight points to take a 6-4 lead and force a GWU timeout.
N.C. Central had an answer for every Gardner-Webb score over the next several rallies, until a 4-0 run highlighted by kills from Anderson, Solano and Murphy tied the set up once more, this time at 11-11.
The back-and-forth scoring continued over the next several plays, until a kill by Arrufat spearheaded a 5-1 run by the Lady Eagles to soar out to a 21-17 lead.
Gardner-Webb battled back to tie the score up at 22-22 and then earned a set point at 24-23 on an N.C. Central service error, but failed to put the set away as the Lady Eagles got back-to-back kills from Anthony to put the Lady Eagles back in front at 25-24.
After a Cockrell kill tied the score up at 25-25, the Lady Eagles picked up back-to-back kills to take the set at 27-25 and tie the match up at one set apiece.
N.C. Central carried over the momentum from the second set win into the third set, as the Lady Eagles used two GWU errors to take a 3-0 lead, and stormed out to a 9-3 lead over the Runnin' Bulldogs.
With the help of two N.C. Central service errors and another kill by Anderson, the Runnin' Bulldogs battled back to cut the Lady Eagles lead to three at 11-8. However, N.C. Central used a 6-4 run over the next 10 rallies to pull back out in front by five at 17-12 on another kill by Anthony.
A kill by Feldman got the GWU offense on track, as Cockrell posted three straight kills to cap off a 6-0 run to put the Runnin' Bulldogs in front by one at 18-17.
The two teams then traded points and the lead over the next several possessions, with each team spoiling two match points for the other team to tie the score up at 25-25, before back-to-back errors by the Lady Eagles gave the set to the Runnin' Bulldogs at 27-25.
Looking to put the match away, the Runnin' Bulldogs jumped out to a 5-2 lead on a block by Feldman and Montour, only to have a service error end the GWU offensive run and spark a 7-4 run by the Lady Eagles who took their first lead of the set at 9-8.
After a GWU timeout, Gardner-Webb came out clicking on all cylinders, roaring to a 7-0 run to pull out to a 15-9 lead on three straight N.C. Central errors.
The Runnin' Bulldogs refused to look back, but rather put the gas pedal down, as Hildebrand recorded three straight kills to run out to an 18-10 lead over the Lady Eagles.
Gardner-Webb pushed its lead out to as much as nine down the stretch, as Hildebrand but the set away with a kill to give the Runnin' Bulldogs the 25-16 set win and the 3-1 match victory.
The Runnin' Bulldogs posted a .400 attack percentage in the fourth set and totaled 10 team blocks in the win.
"It was a solid match for us. Tyler was outstanding and focused and Heather ran our offense well," stated Coach Sayles. "We were much more consistent and focused, and determined to fight for every point."
Gardner-Webb (1-6) will return home for its season opener on Wednesday night, September 5th, versus Wofford at 7 p.m. in Paul Porter Arena.