ECU Looks to Extend Winning Streak at Black & Gold Challenge

Andrea Queck

Sept. 19, 2013

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GREENVILLE, N.C. -The East Carolina volleyball team will travel to Boone, N.C., this weekend to compete in the Black & Gold Challenge hosted by Appalachian State. The Pirates will look to extend their four-match winning streak at the tournament which will run from Friday, September 20 to Saturday, September 21. The Pirates and Mountaineers will meet Friday at 7 p.m., before East Carolina takes on Denver and UT Arlington on Saturday at 10 a.m., and 4 p.m., respectively.

The Black & Gold Challenge
ECU will travel to Boone, N.C., for the Black & Gold Challenge hosted by Appalachian State. The tournament will run from Friday, September 20 to Saturday, September 21. The Pirates and Mountaineers will meet Friday at 7 p.m., before East Carolina takes on Denver and UT Arlington on Saturday at 10 a.m., and 4 p.m., respectively.

The Series vs. Appalachian State
The Pirates and Mountaineers will meet for the 26th time in program history and Appalachian State holds a slight edge on East Carolina as the Mountaineers lead the all-time series 13-12. The Mountaineers were victorious over the Pirates in their last meeting in 2005 as Appalachian State defeated ECU, 3-1 [29-31, 30-24, 23-30, 31-33]. East Carolina is looking for its first win over the Mountaineers since 1992 as Appalachian State has won the last three contests. In 1992, the Pirates beat Appalachian State in four sets [15-13, 15-5, 10-15, 15-1]. Although Appalachian State has won the last three meetings, East Carolina claimed the previous five matches.

The Series vs. Denver
East Carolina and the Denver Pioneers will go head-to-head for the first time in program history Saturday, September 21, at 10 a.m., at the Holmes Center.

The Series vs. UT Arlington
ECU and the UT Arlington Mavericks will face each other for the first time in program history on Saturday, September 21, at 4 p.m., at the Holmes Center.

Last Time Out
The Pirates are riding a four-match winning streak after sweeping the Elon Phoenix Classic with victories over NC Central (3-0), Gardner-Webb (3-0), and host Elon (3-0), before defeating NC Central (3-0) in Durham, N.C., in a mid-week non-conference contest. At NC Central, East Carolina hit a season-best .323 en route to securing its sixth win of the year which triples the number of victories ECU tallied a year ago. Senior opposite hitter Nicole Willis and junior setter Zarah Cecich led the Pirate offense as Willis recorded a match-high 14 kills with a .346 hitting percentage and Cecich dished out a season-best 37 assists in the match. Senior libero Shelby Beasley recorded 10 digs at libero, while sophomore defensive specialist Erika Figueroa added nine. Senior outside hitter Whitney Campbell hit .500 in the contest with nine kills on 16 attempts with just one miscue, while adding three digs, an assist and one service ace. The Pirates held the Eagles to a .184 attack percentage as ECU handed NC Central its 12th straight loss of the season.

About the Pirates
East Carolina owns a 6-5 record thus far as the Pirates have recorded victories over The Citadel (3-0), Morgan State (3-0), NC Central (3-0 and 3-0), Gardner-Webb (3-0), and Elon (3-0). The Pirates are on their first four-match winning streak since 2008 and recorded their first road tournament title since 2005. Senior opposite hitter Nicole Willis leads the team offensively with 148 kills to average 4.35 kills per set. Defensively, senior libero Shelby Beasley has paced the back row with a team-best 136 digs (4.00 per set). At setter, junior Zarah Cecich and freshman Bella Borgiotti have combined for 346 assists. Cecich is averaging 8.14 assists per set, while Borgiotti owns a 6.11 ratio. At the net, the Pirates are led by middle hitters Virginia Fitch (31 blocks) and Kierra Lee-Dunson (26 blocks). As a team, ECU is averaging 12.09 kills per set, 16.12 digs per set, 11.50 assists per set and 1.93 blocks per set.

Scouting the Mountaineers
Appalachian State brings a 6-4 record into the Black & Gold Challenge and is looking for its first win since September 7 when the Mountaineers swept Binghamton at the NC State Tournament. The Mountaineers were swept at the Baylor Invitational as they dropped three contests to Colorado (3-2), Baylor (3-0), and Northwestern State (3-0). As a team, Appalachian State is hitting .226 and averaging 12.1 kills pet set with 11.2 assists per set and 14.6 digs per set. Emily Corrigan, a sophomore outside hitter, leads the Mountaineers with 130 kills to average 3.82 per set. She also has posted 91 digs (2.68 per set), nine total blocks, four service aces and three assists for 139.0 points. Sophomore Paige Brown is the App State setter and she has amassed 344 assists to average 10.12 assists per set. Brown is third on the team with 87 digs to average 2.56 per set. Defensively, Meghan Mahoney lead the team in digs with 174 to average 5.12 per set. The sophomore defensive specialist/libero also has contributed 26 assists, seven service aces and four kills.

Scouting the Pioneers
Denver comes into the Black & Gold Challenge with a 5-4 overall record and is 1-0 on the road and 2-0 in neutral site contests. The Pioneers are looking to snap a three-match losing streak in which they dropped three contests to Colorado State (3-1), UCLA (3-0), and Creighton (3-2) at the Denver Invitational. The Pioneers are hitting .269 on the season and average 12.7 kills per set, 12.0 assists per set, 13.2 digs per set and 2.0 blocks per set. Senior right side Colleen King leads the squad with 111 kills to average 3.26 per set. She has also registered 28 total blocks (0.82 per set), 18 digs, a pair of assists and a service ace. Kate Acker, a junior defensive specialist/libero, has posted a team-leading 117 digs to average 3.77 per set. Additionally, Acker has recorded 16 assists and a team-best 11 service aces. Junior Bailey Karst is the Pioneers' setter. She paces the offense with 359 assists to average 10.56 per set. Karst also owns 65 digs (1.91 per set), 12 kills, 10 aces and seven total blocks.

Scouting the Mavericks
UT Arlington enters the Black & Gold Challenge with a 5-5 season record. The Mavericks posted a 1-2 record over the weekend at the Hilton Maverick Classic as they fell to UTSA (3-1) and Texas A&M Corpus Christi (3-0), while earning a sweep over Mississippi Valley State (3-0). UT Arlington is hitting .182 as a team and the Mavericks average 11.16 kills per set to go along with 10.14 assists per set, 14.35 digs per set and 2.62 blocks per set. Shelby Dickson, a senior outside hitter, is the team's leader in kills with 91 to average 2.46 per set. Dickson adds 94 digs (2.54 per set), 18 total blocks, 10 service aces and six assists. Junior Amanda Welsh and freshman Cassidy Wheeler share setter duties as Welsh has dished out a team-best 203 helpers, while Wheeler has registered 118. Senior middle blocker Charmaine Whitmore is the Maverick's leader in blocks as she has posted 53 total blocks with five solo blocks and 48 block assists to average 1.51 per set.

The National Spotlight
As a team, East Carolina ranks 31st in the nation in digs per set as the Pirates average 16.42. Individually, senior opposite Nicole Willis ranks 18th nationally with 4.32 kills per set and 20th in the NCAA with 4.89 points per set.

Cracking the Top Ten
Senior Shelby Beasley and junior Zarah Cecich have broken into the East Carolina record book top 10. Beasley earned herself a number five spot on the career digs list with 1,075. She is just 39 digs away from fourth-place. Cecich cracked the top 10 with 1,268 career assists. She is 408 assists away from the ninth-place spot.

Where There's a Willis There's a Way
Senior opposite hitter Nicole Willis owns a team-best 148 kills to average 4.35 per set. The Raleigh, N.C., native has also contributed 101 digs (2.97 per set), 19 blocks (0.56 per set), nice aces and nine assists. She has notched double digit kills in nine out of 11 contests and recorded two double-doubles in one day as she tallied 19 kills and 11 digs versus Gardner-Webb and 12 kills and 10 digs at Elon over the weekend at the Phoenix Classic en route to being named MVP of the tournament.

Helping Hands
This season East Carolina is platooning junior Zarah Cecich and freshman Bella Borgiotti at setter. The duo have combined for 346 assists on the year. Over the weekend, Cecich paced the Pirate offense as she dished out 66 assists to average 7.33 per set and added 12 kills, 10 digs and three blocks en route to being named to the Elon Phoenix All-Tournament Team. Most recently, Cecich tied her season-high with 37 assists in the Pirates' 3-0 sweep at NC Central on Tuesday. Overall, Cecich has registered 236 assists (8.14 per set), while Borgiotti has added 110 (6.11 per set).

Can You Dig It?
Senior libero Shelby Beasley leads ECU with 136 digs and is averaging 4.00 digs per set. Her digs per set average ranks her seventh in Conference USA. The Winter Park, Fla., native has done her part leading the Pirate defense as the squad has registered 548 digs to average 16.12 per set which is good for third in the conference and 31st in the nation.

Block Party
Senior middle hitter Virginia Fitch has collected a team-best 31 total blocks this year to average 0.94 per set. The Raleigh, N.C., native has tallied two solo blocks and 29 block assists. Sophomore middle hitter Kierra Lee-Dunson owns 26 block assists for an average of 0.84 per set. She owns one solo block and 25 block assists. The duo have helped the Pirates collect 65.5 total blocks on the year for an average of 1.93 per set.

All-Tourney All The Time
Nicole Willis, Zarah Cecich, and Kierra Lee-Dunson were all named to the Elon Phoenix All-Tournament Team over the weekend. Willis garnered MVP honors after finishing the classic with 40 kills (4.44 per set), 25 digs (2.78 per set), three blocks (0.33 per set), a trio of assists, and as many service aces. She also recorded two double-doubles in three matches. Cecich paced the offense with 66 assists (7.33 per set) to go along with 12 kills (1.33 per set), 10 digs (1.11 per set), and three blocks (0.33 per set), with an impressive hitting percentage of .524. Lee-Dunson wrapped up the weekend tournament with a .433 hitting percentage, 15 kills (1.67 per set), five total blocks (0.56 per set) and two digs.

New Leader
Head volleyball coach Julie Torbett, who was hired in February, is the 12th head coach in ECU volleyball history. The winningest coach in the Big South volleyball annals has lead the Pirates to six victories thus far, tripling ECU's win total from a year ago. She has guided the Pirates to four-straight wins, a feat which East Carolina has not accomplished since 2008. Torbett has brought her winning ways to Pirate Nation as she helped the Pirates capture their first road tournament title since 2005 with three-straight sweeps at the Elon Phoenix Classic. In just 11 matches, Torbett's team has equalled the last three years worth of ECU volleyball victories and she isn't done yet.

ECU in the C-USA
This season the Pirates have ranked in the Conference USA top five in three statistical categories thus far. East Carolina is second in service aces per set with an average of 1.48, third in digs per set with an average of 16.42, and third in opponent hitting percentage as ECU has limited its counterparts to a .153 attack percentage.

Pirates in the C-USA
Individually, ECU has four student-athletes who rank in the top 10 in Conference USA statistical categories this season. Senior Nicole Willis' name can be found in two categories as she is second in kills per set (4.32) as well as points per set (4.89). Sophomore Kierra Lee-Dunson has put together a .381 hitting percentage which is good for fifth in the conference, while senior Shelby Beasley ranks seventh with a 4.06 digs per set ratio, and senior Virginia Fitch is tied for ninth as she averages 0.30 services aces per set.

All in the Family
There are a few East Carolina family connections on the roster again this season. Sophomore Torre Blake, who saw action in 45 sets last season, is the daughter of Jeff Blake who played football at ECU and proceeded to enjoy a lengthy NFL career. Additionally, Kierra and Sierra Lee-Dunson return to the Pirates this season after Kierra played in 29 sets and Sierra redshirted last year. 2013 marks the first season East Carolina will have a pair of twins on the court since Sarah and Jessica Vick donned purple and gold from 2001-03.

The "New" Conference USA
Conference USA was one of the many conferences that saw realignments over the summer. July 1, 2013 marked the addition of Charlotte, FIU, Florida Atlantic, LA Tech, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Old Dominion, and UTSA to C-USA. While the conference expanded with the eight new member institutions, it also parted ways with Houston, Memphis, SMU and UCF as all four joined the American Athletic Conference. 2013 will mark the last year of ECU's affiliation with Conference USA as the Pirates will join the American Athletic Conference beginning next season.

Coming Up...
Following East Carolina's showing at the Black & Gold Challenge, the Pirates will take on Howard University in a mid-week non-conference match-up on Tuesday, September 24. The Pirates and the Bison will go head-to-head at 7 p.m., at Burr Gymnasium.