USM in prime position to win conference
Southern Miss (21-7, 8-3 Conference USA) rebounded from a 3-1 loss at Florida Atlantic on Wednesday to pick up back-to-back home wins over the weekend against Texas-El Paso and Alabama-Birmingham.
Against UTEP, the first set was a back-and-forth affair as neither team led by more than two points. With the set tied at 23 apiece, Dalainee Perry put the Miners up one before Kelsey Chamber made an attack error to seal UTEP’s win.
The second set confirmed what the first set proved— the two teams were evenly matched. Down 25-24, USM extended the set as Perry made an attack error. Both teams continued to trade points until Lindsey Larson sealed the win for the Miners with a kill. UTEP went up 2-0 in the match with the 33-31 win in the second set.
With their backs against the wall, needing to win each set in order to stay alive in the match, the Golden Eagles prevailed.
The third set continued to be evenly matched as both teams traded points to put the score at 8-8.
But then the Golden Eagles went on a 9-2 run, giving them a comfortable 17-10 lead. UTEP never got closer than three points as USM pulled out a 25- 18 win. The fourth set was much of the same as the Golden Eagles once again won 25-18. The match-deciding fifth set was fittingly, extremely close.
The set was extended as the teams were knotted up at 15- all. Consecutive kills by Elise Ames and Rachel Johnson gave USM the deciding 18-16 win.
Stephany Purdue led the way for USM with 21 kills while Chambers, Johnson and Ames each had double digit kills.Sarah Bell paced the USM offense with 54 assists and Mary Pursell led the team with 30 digs.
Sunday’s match against UAB was a completely different story as USM swept the Blazers 3-0. UAB came into the match winless in conference play and it showed in all three sets. Southern Miss was simply the superior team on the court. The Golden Eagles were in control from the opening serve, winning the three sets 25-18, 25-22 and 25-13. Donning pink jerseys for breast cancer awareness, USM collected 44 kills on a .311 hitting clip while UAB only managed a .121 hitting percentage.
Purdue was the only Golden Eagle with double digit kills with 15 while posting a doubledouble with 12 digs. Bell once again set the tone for the USM offense with 35 assists. Pursell had 21 digs while Kylie Grandy had 15 and Natalie Druhan chipped in eight.
With just five games left before the conference tournament, the Golden Eagles are second in the conference behind only No. 22 Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers have won 17 straight matches and are undefeated in conference play.
However, barring a late season collapse, USM is sitting in prime position to earn a firstround bye in the tournament. The top four teams in the conference earn a first-round bye in the eight-team single elimination tournament.
The Golden Eagles will travel to Houston, Texas to take on Rice Thursday before taking on North Texas in Denton Friday.