The Herd started out with a 30-19, somewhat easy win over the Pirates in game one on Marshall's home court, the Cam Henderson Center, as host of the 2007 tournament. It certainly was not an easy win of the match for Marshall, however, as East Carolina rallied from being down 25-19 in game two and took the Herd to overtime in a game that was eventually won by MU, 34-32, but not before the Pirates (16-17) took game-point leads of 30-29 and 32-31 in needing to win by two. A kill by Cahill to tie the game at 32-32 was followed by two straight kills by Billingy.
After the intermission, the Pirates came out with renewed fire and flat whipped a flat Marshall team in game three, 30-19, in a game where the "Thunder" in the Thundering Herd was missing. After a timeout "chat" with Marshall head coach Mitch Jacobs, Marshall came out for game four to a fired-up, partisan crowd of 773 paid, although it appeared to be nearly 1,000 in attendance for the match, including cheerleaders, Marshall's facility staff (doing a tremendous job of running this first-ever Conference USA event at Marshall), the sports information department for the Herd, Conference USA officials, media and other MU student-athletes, including the entire Marshall men's basketball team.
"ECU gained the momentum after the half," said Jacobs on the WMUL 88.1-FM post-game show. "I thought game two would be a wake-up call but we were able to hang on. We came out in game three down on our energy. Uche is our emotional leader and not having her on the floor is tough." Jacobs is now 132-65 in six years at Marshall, and needs just seven wins to pass former coach (1976-81), player (1972-74) and MU Hall of Fame member Linda Holmes (in 2006) for most wins ever by a coach of the Herd volleyball program.
Marshall's top crowd of the year saw the Herd fall to UAB, 2-3, in front of 2,737 fans on a Friday night before the men's basketball team had its first practice at "Thundering Herd Madness," but the team thought the Marshall fans sounded much louder than the tickets sold number would have sounded. "That crowd was amazing," said Billingy, the first-ever C-USA volleyball player to win the Player of the Year honor three years in a row. "They kept us so fired up during the game. They were making more noise than ever before and it was so great to have everyone coming out. That definitely had something to do with how well we played."
Marshall senior Kelly-Anne Billingy, the three-time Conference USA Player of the Year, led all players with 23 kills in the Herd 3-1 win over East Carolina in the quarterfinals of the C-USA Volleyball Tournament in the Henderson Center at Marshall University. Photo by MU Sports Information, www.HerdZone.com
Marshall fell behind early in game four by the score of 3-5 East Carolina, then surged to a 14-11 lead. Back came ECU to tie the fourth game at 14-14, prompting Jacobs to burn a timeout, but the Pirates still took the lead on the next service and went up 14-16. Back came the Herd again, jumping to a 21-18 lead, but the Pirates would not go quietly. Marshall had leads of 21-19; 22-21; 24-23; 27-24; and 28-25 before putting away the game and match, 30-25, on Cahill's 22nd kill of the match. Billingy led all players with 23 kills in the match, and Jalicia Ross added 11 kills in Ndubisi's absence. Ross was a freshman with Billingy, Cahill, Ndubisi and Maggie Arias in 2004 (Marshall's last year in the Mid-American Conference), but a knee injury forced the native of Trinidad to take a red-shirt season that makes her a junior.
"Yes, we had to step it up tonight, because Uche is not doing very well," said Ross, "and Kelley Bugler did a great job of coming in tonight." Her fellow Trinidad teammate, Billingy, agreed and knows this is what tournament play is all about. "It's tournament time," said the Herd's all-time kill leader (now 2,448 in her career). "Everybody is going to come out and give you their best shot." Billingy and Cahill were named first team All-C-USA, while Ross and Elizabeth Fleming were named to the second team.
Marshall's young players, however, also had a big part in the win. Fleming, the Freshman of the Year in C-USA, had 65 assists, the sixth time this season she has topped 60. Her season total is now 1,569, just 97 short of fifth-best in a season at MU. Fleming was one of four players with a double-double in the win: Billingy, sixth double-double of the season with 23 kills and 11 digs; Cahill's 19th of the season with 22 kills and 11 digs; Fleming's ninth of the season with 65 assists and 11 digs; and sophomore Kristin Marcum made it four double-doubles with 11 kills and a team-best 17 digs. Freshman Kelley Bugler added three kills and three digs in a start in Ndubisi's absence.
"People were asking me, 'What happened, what happened in the third game,' and sometimes things just don't go your way," said Fleming. "We might have had a little bit of a mental letdown, but the good thing was we came back in game four to win the match." Fleming was also impressed by the work of fellow frosh, Bugler, on finding out she would start the game for Ndubisi. "We just went to the next player, and Kelley stepped in a did a tremendous job like she has all year." Bugler was just appearing, by the end of the night, in her 49th games of the year, entering with only a 0.44 kill average and a 0.16 dig average, but coming up with three tonight in each category. Fleming, on the other hand, was appearing in her 118th game.
Marshall (23-8) is shooting for a second C-USA "double-double" in three years. MU won the regular season this year, and won both the regular season and tournament in 2005, the first year in C-USA. The Herd now has ten straight wins (and has won 17 of its last 18 matches) and will play the No. 4 seed Tulsa (25-8) on Saturday night at 6 p.m. At 4 p.m., he opening match of the semi-finals will be No. 2-seeded Tulane (27-5) versus the No. 3 seed, UAB (23-8), the only team to beat the Herd in Conference USA play this season. All matches can be heard on WMUL 88.1-FM in Huntington, the Marshall student station. For those fans out of town, you can hear the games via www.marshall.edu/wmul on the worldwide web.