Special to the Herald
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON – After a slow start, Ashford pulled out an exciting five-set volleyball victory in front of a raucous home crowd inside Kehl Arena on Wednesday night.
Ashford dropped the first two sets to visiting Clarke but won the final three sets, including a 15-12 victory in the fifth and decisive set to improve to 7-3 this season.
“Tonight was good for our confidence, to win a close five-set match,” Saints coach Micah Cewe said. “We had our opportunities in the first two sets but gave up big leads. I’m glad we found a way to finish in the fifth set.”
Redshirt freshman Victoria Day pounded out 17 kills while Morgan Martells of Sterling, Ill., and outside hitter Kristen Kotch added nine apiece. For the match, Clarke held a 64-56 edge in kills, but the Saints totaled 12 blocks against just three for Clarke. Martells paced all players with five rejections.
A back-and-forth first set went to the visitors 25-23 before Ashford took control in Set 2. The Saints jumped to a 14-7 advantage on three consecutive attack errors by Crusaders hitters. But Clarke clawed back and used a 4-0 run coupled with a 9-2 run later in the set to pull out a 26-24 decision.
Down 0-2, the Saints found ways to inch back.
“Following the set, we told the girls that the little things matter and to keep fighting,” Cewe said. “We emphasized to win the long rallies and to keep our leads, build on them and to finish.”
Ashford raced to a 14-7 lead again in Game 3 but needed to claim four of the final five points to take a 25-22 win after Clarke. The Crusaders went on a 14-7 run in the late stages of the set, but a kill by Day and a service ace from libero Samantha Schultz iced the set for Ashford.
AU controlled much of the fourth set, winning by a 25-19 margin to set up the final 15-12 win.
Schultz led all players with 18 digs to go along with a pair of aces and two assists. Freshman Verenice Chaparro dished out a team-high 27 assists while sophomore setter Danielle Rzewnicki added 19.
“We have a mix of youth and experience, and you never really know how a team is going to respond after going down 0-2,” Cewe said. “We had a lot of girls step up tonight, and that’s what we’ve needed. They really fought tonight, and that’s great to see.”
Emily Wineinger led Clarke with 16 kills as the team suffered its first loss in six matches.
Ashford returns to the court at 7 p.m. Friday when it visits Mount Mercy.