Volleyball Heads to Marshall and Tulsa for C-USA Action

UABSPORTS.COM Whitney Campbell
Whitney Campbell

Oct. 17, 2013

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GREENVILLE, N.C. -East Carolina will play in a pair of Conference USA road contests this weekend. On Friday, October 18, the Pirates will go up against Marshall in Huntington, W.Va. First serve is set for 5:30 p.m. ECU will then head to Tulsa, Okla., to do battle with reigning C-USA champion Tulsa on Sunday, October 20 at 1 p.m. ET.

The Series vs. Marshall
The Pirates and Thundering Herd will go head-to-head for the 18th time in program history and Marshall leads the all-time series 15-2. Last season, Marshall defeated ECU in four sets on two occasions. The Pirates are looking for their first victory over the Thundering Herd since 2010. Three years ago, East Carolina held on to defeat Marshall 3-2 [25-22, 27-25, 19-25, 13-25, 15-8] to snap a 26-match C-USA losing streak.

The Series vs. Tulsa
ECU and Tulsa will meet for the 11th time in program history and the Golden Hurricane leads the all-time series 9-1. The Pirates won the first-ever meeting, 3-1 [30-27, 30-22, 28-30, 30-25], in Greenville during the 2005 season, but since then Tulsa has claimed the last nine contests. Last season the Golden Hurricane swept East Carolina [16-25, 14-25, 16-25] in Tulsa.

Last Time Out
The Pirates have won three out of their last four matches with victories over Savannah State (3-0), Charleston Southern (3-0) and LA Tech (3-2), before falling to Tulane (1-3) on Sunday. Against LA Tech, East Carolina turned in a few career- and season-highs. Shelby Beasley led the way as she tied her career-best and the ECU school record with 34 digs. Nicole Willis led the offensive attack with a season-high 22 kills and 13 digs for her team-leading 11th double-double of the year. Zarah Cecich dished out 38 assists, while tying her career-high with seven kills, six digs and three total blocks. Torre Blake registered a career-high 10 digs in the Pirates' win. Two days later, in the loss to Tulane, ECU notched another set of bests as Kierra Lee-Dunson knocked down a career-best 11 kills and Virginia Fitch came off the bench and tallied a season-best seven kills and four total blocks. Additionally, Willis recorded her second double-double of the weekend (11 kills, 14 digs) to bring her season total to 12. Cecich added 34 assists and six digs, while Beasley paced the defense with a match-high 25 digs.

About the Pirates
East Carolina owns a 10-12 overall record and is 1-4 in Conference USA action. The Pirates notched their first C-USA victory of the season with a 3-2 win over LA Tech on Friday. The victory marked ECU's 10th win of the year and gave the Pirates its first double-digit win season since 2008. The Pirates have accumulated 883 kills to average 11.47 per set, while averaging 10.69 assists per game. ECU ranks fourth in the league with a digs per set average of 15.22 while limiting opponents to a .172 attack percentage which is also good for fourth in C-USA. Nicole Willis is the team's leader in kills with 302 to average 3.92 per set which ranks seventh in the league and 49th in the NCAA. She has amassed a team-best 343.5 points for a 4.46 points per game average to place fifth in the conference and 45th in the nation. Willis also contributes 242 digs (3.14 per set), 41 total blocks, 25 assists, and a team-best 18 service aces. Shelby Beasley paces the back row with a team-leading 292 digs to average 3.79 per set which ranks 12th in the league. Zarah Cecich has dished out a team-best 605 helpers to average 8.40 assists per set which is good for 12th in C-USA. Kierra Lee-Dunson is ECU's leader in blocks with 64 to average 0.86 per set. She also adds 111 kills, 13 digs and two assists with a team-best .310 hitting percentage which ranks 13th in C-USA.

Scouting the Thundering Herd
Marshall is coming off of a 3-1 win over North Texas in Denton and the Thundering Herd own a 10-11 overall record and a 4-2 C-USA ledger. The Herd have played six matches inside the Cam Henderson Center and have accumulated a 4-2 home record. Marshall is hitting .207 as a team and is averaging 12.5 kills per set to go along with 11.7 assists per game. Defensively, the Thundering Herd average 13.7 digs per set and 2.0 blocks per game. Laura Der and Sacha Byous-McConnell lead the Thundering Herd with 189 and 180 kills, respectively. Der is averaging a team-best 3.26 kills per set, while Byous-McConnell averages 2.50 with a team-leading .379 hitting percentage. Der's kills per game average is good for 11th in C-USA, while Byous-McConnell's attack percentage ranks her fourth. Sammie Bane is Marshall's setter as she has amassed 807 assists to average 9.84 per set which places her sixth in the league. Defensively, Dorothy Rahal has contributed a team-high 295 digs for an average of 3.60 per game to rank 15th in C-USA.

Scouting the Golden Hurricane
Tulsa is riding an eight-match winning streak as the Golden Hurricane has not lost a match since September 17 when Tulsa dropped a 3-2 decision to Oklahoma. The reigning Conference USA champions are undefeated in league action with a 5-0 C-USA record to go along with a 16-4 overall mark. The Golden Hurricane is hitting .197, while limiting its opponents to a league-best .158 attack percentage. Additionally, Tulsa averages 13.87 kills per set as well as 13.06 assists per set, which both rank second in C-USA. On defense, Tulsa averages a conference-leading 19.09 digs per set average and 1.74 blocks per set. Kellie Culbertson leads the team with 270 kills to average 3.46 per game. She is also second on the squad with 337 digs to average 4.32 per set and leads the Golden Hurricane as well as C-USA with 44 service aces for 0.56 per set average. Tulsa platoons Bailey Clampitt and Genesis Viera at setter as the duo have combined for 900 assists on the year. Clampitt owns 590 assists to average 7.56 per set, while Viera has accumulated 310 for a 4.77 per game average. Brooke Berryhill leads the Tulsa defense with 350 digs for an average of 4.49 per set.

The National Spotlight
Senior opposite hitter Nicole Willis has been on an offensive tear as of late. The Raleigh, N.C., native leads the Pirates with 3.92 kills per set and 4.46 points per set and both are nationally ranked marks. Willis' points per game average is good for 45th in the NCAA, while her kills per set average ranks her 49th in the nation.

Cracking the Top Ten
Senior 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 1,231. She is now just 15 away from third-place. Cecich cracked the top 10 with 1,637 career assists. She is 39 assists away from the ninth-place spot.

C-USA Defensive Player of the Week
Senior libero Shelby Beasley paced the ECU defense last week as she helped lead the Pirates to a 2-1 record with wins over Charleston Southern (3-0) and Louisiana Tech (3-2) en route to earning her first-ever Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week honor. The conference award is the first for the ECU volleyball program since former Pirate Trish Monroe was recognized by C-USA for her defensive efforts twice during the 2008 campaign. Beasley finished the week with 71 digs to average nearly six digs per set (5.92). At Charleston Southern, she notched 12 digs, then came back against LA Tech and tied her career-high and the ECU school record with 34 digs in the Pirates' five-set win. Against Tulane, Beasley recorded a match-high 25 digs in the 3-1 setback.

Where There's a Willis There's a Way
Senior opposite hitter Nicole Willis owns a team-best 302 kills to average 3.94 per set. The Raleigh, N.C., native has also contributed 242 digs (3.14 per set), 41 blocks (0.53 per set), 25 assists, and a team-leading 18 service aces. She has notched double-digit kills in 18 out of 22 contests this season. She has also led the team in kills in 21 of 22 contests and has recorded a team-high 12 double-doubles. Willis' kills per set average ranks her seventh in the conference and 49th in the NCAA. Additionally, she averages 4.46 points per set which is good for fifth in the league and 45th in the nation.

Helping Hands
East Carolina is platooning junior Zarah Cecich and freshman Bella Borgiotti at setter. The duo have combined for 724 assists this year. On the season, Cecich has registered 605 assists (8.40 per set), while Borgiotti has added 119 (5.41 per set). The pair have helped the Pirates average 10.69 assists per set as ECU has accumulated a total of 823 helpers on the year.

Can You Dig It?
Senior libero Shelby Beasley leads ECU with 292 digs and is averaging 3.79 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 1172 digs to average 15.22 per set which is good for fourth in the conference.

Block Party
Sophomore middle hitter Kierra Lee-Dunson owns a team-leading 64 total blocks for an average of 0.86 per set. Senior opposite hitter Nicole Willis is second on the team with 41 total blocks this year to average 0.53 per game, while senior middle hitter Virginia Fitch owns an average of 0.83 blocks per set for second on the squad in blocks per game. The trio have helped the Pirates collect 150.5 total blocks on the year for an average of 1.95 per set.

All-Tourney All The Time
The 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 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 10 victories thus far, more than tripling ECU's win total from a year ago and leading the Pirates to their first double-digit win season since 2008. This year, she has guided the Pirates to five-straight wins, a feat which East Carolina had not accomplished in five years. Torbett has brought her winning ways to Pirate Nation as she helped ECU capture its first road tournament title since 2005 with three-straight sweeps at the Elon Phoenix Classic.

ECU in the C-USA
This season the Pirates have ranked in the Conference USA top 10 in four categories thus far. East Carolina is fourth in opponent hitting percentage as ECU has limited its counterparts to a .172 attack percentage. The Pirates are also ranked fourth in digs per set as they average 15.22 per set. ECU's 1.95 blocks per set is good for ninth as is the Pirates' average of 1.19 services aces per game.

Pirates in the C-USA
Individually, senior opposite hitter Nicole Willis is ranked in two statistical categories in Conference USA. Willis' 4.46 points per set average is good for fifth, while her kills per set ratio of 3.92 ranks her seventh in the league. Junior setter Zarah Cecich averages 8.40 assists per set which ranks her 12th in the league, while senior Shelby Beasley's 3.79 digs per game average is also good for 12th. Sophomore Kierra Lee-Dunson ranks 13th in the league with a .310 hitting percentage.

All in the Family
There are a few East Carolina family connections on the roster again this season. Sophomore Torre Blake, who has played in all 17 matches this season and is second on the team with 107 kills, 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 and Kierra leads the Pirates with a .306 attack percentage, while Sierra has seen action in a pair of matches thus far. 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 the Pirates' road trips to Huntington, W.Va., and Tulsa, Okla., East Carolina returns home to host Conference USA newcomers FIU and Florida Atlantic. The Pirates and FIU will square off on Friday, October 25 at 7 p.m., before ECU goes up against Florida Atlantic on Sunday, October 27 at 1 p.m. Live stats and video will be available for both contests on ECUPirates.com