The Pirates Travel to Rice for a Sunday Afternoon Contest

UABSPORTS.COM Erika Figueroa
Erika Figueroa

Sept. 28, 2013

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GREENVILLE, N.C. -ECU is looking for its first Conference USA win of the season on Sunday, September 29, at Rice in Houston, Texas at 2 p.m. ET inside Tudor Fieldhouse. The contest marks the 11th straight road match for the Pirates as they have not played at home since Saturday, September 7.

The MatchECU looks for its first Conference USA win of the season on Sunday, September 29 at Rice in Houston, Texas at 2 p.m. ET inside Tudor Fieldhouse. The contest marks the 11th straight road match for the Pirates as they have not played at home since Saturday, September 7.

The SeriesThe Pirates and the Owls will meet for the 12th time in program history and Rice leads the all-time series 8-3. The last time the two squads met was last October when Rice defeated East Carolina in four sets [16-25, 25-19, 13-25, 11-25] in Houston. The Pirates are looking for their first win over Rice since 2007, when ECU won in five sets at Tudor Fieldhouse.

Last Time OutThe Pirates are looking to get back on the winning track after dropping four consecutive matches to Denver (2-3), UT Arlington (1-3), Howard (1-3), and North Texas (0-3). East Carolina's three-set loss to North Texas came on Friday night. In that match, the Pirates sturggled offensivley as they were limited to a -.123 attack percentage, while the Mean Green hit .321. ECU finished the match with 23 digs, 14 kills and as many assists. Nicole Willis led the team in scoring for the 16th-straight match this season as she recorded five kills to go along with a match-high 11 digs. Junior Zarah Cecich tallied all of the Pirates' assists and added a block assist in the setback. Sophomore Kierra Lee-Dunson hit a team-leading .400 as she tallied three kills with one error on five attempts and added a pair of block assists and a single dig.

About the PiratesEast Carolina owns a 7-9 overall record which more than triples the Pirates' win total from last season. The Pirates are 0-1 in Conference USA action after dropping a 3-0 contest at North Texas on Friday. ECU is led offensively by senior opposite hitter Nicole Willis who boasts 227 kills to average 4.13 kills per set to rank fourth in Conference USA and 31st in the NCAA. Willis' 4.60 points per game average is also good for third in the league and ranks 30th in the nation. The Raleigh, N.C., native adds 169 digs (3.07 per set), 28 total blocks, 16 assists, and 10 service aces on the year. Senior libero Shelby Beasley has been consistent for ECU in the back row as she sets the standard with 203 digs to average 3.69 digs per set. Junior Zarah Cecich and freshman Bella Borgiotti share setter duties for the Pirates as the duo have combined for 528 assists this season. Cecich has accumulated 418 assists (8.36 per set), while Borgiotti has dished out 110 (6.11 per set). Sophomore middle hitter Kierra Lee-Dunson leads the squad with 43 total blocks to average 0.83 per set. She also owns 76 kills, 10 digs and two assists. The East Carolina defense has been consistent all year as the Pirates are limiting opponents to just .181 hitting to rank third in the conference. ECU also has tallied 816 digs to average 14.89 per set which is good for fourth in the league. Offensively, the Pirates average 11.59 kills per set to go along with 10.93 assists per set.

Scouting the OwlsRice has posted a 3-12 overall record and is 0-1 in Conference USA play. Most recently, the Owls were swept by Middle Tennessee State to open league action. Jillian Humphrey leads the Owls' offense with 168 kills to average 2.95 per set. She has also posted 67 total blocks, 17 digs and one assist on the year. Sara Blasier and Megan Murphy are Rice's setters the duo has combined for 588 assists. Blasier has amassed 367 assists to average 9.18 per set, while Murphy owns 221 helpers for a 6.70 set average. Daniela Arenas leads the squad with 236 digs to average 4.14 per set. Most recently, Arenas tallied her 1,000th career dig in the Owls' 3-0 setback to Middle Tennessee. As a team, Rice is hitting .187 and averages 12.91 kills per set with 14.58 digs per set, and 12.11 assists per set.

The National SpotlightAs a team, East Carolina ranks 77th in the nation in digs per set as the Pirates average 14.89. Individually, senior opposite hitter Nicole Willis ranks 30th nationally with 4.60 points per set and 31st in the NCAA with 4.13 kills per set.

Cracking the Top TenSenior Shelby Beasley and junior Zarah Cecich have broken into the East Carolina record book top 10. Beasley has moved up to a number four spot on the career digs list with 1,142. She is now 104 away from third-place. Cecich cracked the top 10 with 1,450 career assists. She is 226 assists away from the ninth-place spot.

Where There's a Willis There's a WaySenior opposite hitter Nicole Willis owns a team-best 227 kills to average 4.13 per set. The Raleigh, N.C., native has also contributed 169 digs (3.07 per set), 28 blocks (0.51 per set), 16 assists and 10 service aces this season. She has notched double digit kills in 13 out of 16 contests. Most recently, Willis recorded a double-double at Howard with a match-high 20 kills and a team-leading 14 digs. Willis has led the team in kills in every match this season.

Helping HandsEast Carolina is platooning junior Zarah Cecich and freshman Bella Borgiotti at setter. The duo have combined for 528 assists this year. On Tuesday, Cecich led the Pirates with 37 assists to average 9.25 per set in ECU's 3-1 setback at Howard. On the year, she has registered 418 assists (8.36 per set), while Borgiotti has added 110 (6.11 per set).

Can You Dig It?Senior libero Shelby Beasley leads ECU with 203 digs and is averaging 3.69 digs per set. Her digs per set average ranks her 12th in Conference USA. The Winter Park, Fla., native has done her part leading the Pirate defense as the squad has registered 819 digs to average 14.89 per set which is good for fourth in the conference and 77th in the nation.

Block PartySophomore middle hitter Kierra Lee-Dunson owns a team-leading 43 total blocks for an average of 0.83 per set. Over the weekend, she recorded a total of 13 total blocks to average 0.93 per set at the Black and Gold Challenge. She followed that performance with a team-leading three-block effort at Howard on Tuesday. Senior middle hitter Virginia Fitch adds 33 total blocks this year to average 0.80 per set. The duo have helped the Pirates collect 99.0 total blocks on the year for an average of 1.80 per set which ranks in the top 10 in Conference USA.

All-Tourney All The TimeThe Pirates have competed in four tournaments this season and have come away with numerous All-Tournament team selections. Most recently, sophomore Torre Blake garnered All-Tournament team accolades at the Black and Gold Challenge after hitting .235 with 34 kills, eight total blocks, eight digs, and a pair of assists. Other Pirates who have earned All-Tournament team honors are: Nicole Willis (East Carolina Classic, Elon Phoenix Classic MVP), Shelby Beasley (Wake Forest Deacon Invitational, East Carolina Classic), Zarah Cecich (Elon Phoenix Classic), and Kierra Lee-Dunson (Elon Phoenix Classic).

New LeaderHead 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 seven victories thus far, more than tripling ECU's win total from a year ago. This season, she has guided the Pirates to five-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 16 matches, Torbett's team has collected more wins than the last three years combined and she isn't done yet.

ECU in the C-USAThis season the Pirates have ranked in the Conference USA top 10 in four statistical categories thus far. East Carolina is third in opponent hitting percentage as ECU has limited its counterparts to a .181 attack percentage. The Pirates are fourth in digs per set as they average 14.89 per set, sixth in service aces per set (1.13) and 10th in blocks per set (1.80).

Pirates in the C-USAIndividually, senior opposite hitter Nicole Willis ranks in the top 10 in two separate categories for the Pirates. Willis is third in points per set with 4.60 after tallying a total of 253.0 points this season. She ranks fourth in kills per set as she averages 4.13 per set with a total of 227 on the year.

All in the FamilyThere 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 USAConference 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... The Pirates return home after their 11-match road swing on Friday, October 4, when they host Conference USA foe UAB at 7 p.m. The East Carolina-UAB match will be available on live stats and video on