ECU Welcomes FIU, Florida Atlantic to Minges Coliseum

UABSPORTS.COM Teynia Shepherd
Teynia Shepherd

Oct. 23, 2013

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GREENVILLE, N.C. –The East Carolina volleyball team will host a pair of Conference USA contests this weekend when the Pirates welcome league newcomers FIU and Florida Atlantic to Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. ECU will go head-to-head with FIU on Friday, October 25, at 7 p.m., before taking on Florida Atlantic on Sunday, October 27, at 1 p.m. Sunday’s contest marks ECU Faculty and Staff Day where faculty and staff can show their OneCard at the ticket window and receive up to four free tickets.

The Series vs. FIU
The Pirates and the Panthers will meet for the first time in program history on Friday night. Prior to joining Conference USA, FIU was a member of the Sun Belt Conference.

The Series vs. Florida Atlantic
This weekend marks a series of firsts for ECU as the Pirates and the Owls of Florida Atlantic will compete for the first time in program history on Sunday afternoon. Florida Atlantic joined C-USA on July 1, 2013 from the Sun Belt Conference.

Last Time Out
East Carolina is looking to get back on the winning track after having dropped three consecutive contests to Tulane (1-3), Marshall (0-3), and Tulsa (1-3). At Tulsa, the Pirates put up a fight against the top team in the conference and came up just short. In the contest, senior Whitney Campbell led ECU with her third double-double of the season as she was the only Pirate to record double-figure kills with 11, while adding a team-best 14 digs, four total blocks, and one assist. Shelby Beasley also posted 14 digs to total 1,262 for her career to move into third on the East Carolina career list. Freshman Halee Wright came off the bench and tallied a career-high 11 digs to help pace the back row. Junior Zarah Cecich controlled the East Carolina offense as she dished out a match-high 31 assists, nine digs, three kills, and one block assist. Sophomore Torre Blake turned in a strong performance with a team-best five total blocks, to tie her career-high, and as many kills. As a team, East Carolina hit .058 in the contest while the Pirate defense limited Tulsa to a mere .134 attack percentage. The Pirates were efficient in the front row as they collected 11.0 total team blocks in the setback.

About the Pirates
ECU comes into the weekend against FIU and Florida Atlantic with a 10-14 overall record and a 1-6 Conference USA mark. The Pirates have dropped their last three contests to conference foes Tulane (1-3), Marshall (0-3), and Tulsa (1-3) and are looking to get back on the winning track. As a team, East Carolina has knocked down 951 kills (11.32 per set) for a .157 attack percentage. The Pirates are a defensively strong team that is averaging 15.35 digs per set to rank third in C-USA, while limiting opponents to a .171 hitting percentage which is good for fourth in the league. ECU is led offensively by senior opposite hitter Nicole Willis who averages 3.79 kills per set and 4.29 points per set. Both marks rank seventh in the conference. Willis also adds 3.06 digs per set, for second on the squad, along with a team-leading 0.21 service aces per set. Senior libero Shelby Beasley is the team’s leader in digs with 323 to average 3.85 which ranks 10th in C-USA. Zarah Cecich, a junior setter from Crown Point, Ind., has set the offensive tone with 659 assists to average 8.34 per set to rank 13th in the league. Cecich has also recorded 127 digs (1.61 per set), 64 kills (0.81 per set) and 33 total blocks (0.42 per set). Sophomore middle blocker Kierra Lee-Dunson is the Pirates’ leader in blocks as she has tallied 71 to average 0.88 per set. Lee-Dunson also adds 121 kills for an average of 1.21 per set.

Scouting the Panthers
FIU comes into Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum with a 9-12 overall record and a 3-5 Conference USA ledger. The Panthers are 0-5 when playing on the road this season and have lost three out of their last four contests. FIU is hitting .188 and is averaging 11.80 kills per set with 10.78 assists per game. Defensively, the Panthers have collected 1028 digs for an average of 13.53 per game while averaging a league-leading 2.51 blocks per set. Kimberly Smith and Ksenia Sukhareva are the team leaders in kills as they average 2.99 and 2.97 kills per set, respectively. Smith is also the Panthers’ leader in blocks with a total of 82 for a 1.12 per set average which ranks fifth in Conference USA. A trio of Panthers share setter duties as Ashlee Hodgskin (4.93 per set), Jessica Egan (3.62 per set), and Anabela Stataric (4.13 per set) have combined for 728 assists. Jessica Mendoza leads the Panthers with 224 digs to average 2.95 per set.

Scouting the Owls
Florida Atlantic is looking to snap a six-match losing skid after dropping contests to UTEP (1-3), UTSA (0-3), Florida Gulf Coast (2-3), Tulsa (0-3), UAB (0-3), and FIU (0-3). The Owls have not won a match since October 1 versus Stetson ( 3-0). Their only Conference USA victory came at the hands of UCF, 3-2, on September 20. The Owls own a 9-12 overall mark and are 1-6 in C-USA action. As a team, Florida Atlantic is hitting .199 and averaging 12.6 kills per set with 11.8 assists per game. The Owls have collected 1097 digs for an average of 14.6 per set. They have also posted 141.0 total blocks and are averaging 1.9 per game. Alessia Pizzoccheri leads the Owls offensively with 2.53 kills per set. She also is the team leader in digs with 2.85 per game. Jelen Jovanovic is Florida Atlantic’s primary setter with 8.95 assists per set, while Katarina Stepanovic leads the team with a .312 hitting percentage and 64 total blocks for an average of 0.97 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 3.79 kills per set and 4.29 points per set and both are nationally ranked marks as both are ranked 60th in the NCAA.

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 three spot on the career digs list with 1,262. She is 86 digs away from second place. Cecich moved up to ninth on the all-time assists list with 1,691 helpers. The Crown Point, Ind., native is 88 assists away from eighth place.

C-USA Defensive Player of the Week
Senior libero Shelby Beasley paced the ECU defense the week of October 7, 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 318 kills to average 3.79 per set. The Raleigh, N.C., native has also contributed 257 digs (3.06 per set), 43 blocks (0.51 per set), 26 assists, and a team-leading 18 service aces. She has notched double-digit kills in 18 out of 24 contests this season. She has also led the team in kills in 22 of 24 contests and has recorded a team-high 12 double-doubles. Willis’ kills per set average ranks her seventh in the conference and 60th in the NCAA. Additionally, she averages 4.29 points per set which is also good for seventh in the league and 60th in the nation.

Helping Hands
East Carolina is platooning junior Zarah Cecich and freshman Bella Borgiotti at setter. The duo have combined for 780 assists this year. On the season, Cecich has registered 659 assists (8.34 per set), while Borgiotti has added 121 (5.04 per set). The pair have helped the Pirates average 10.51 assists per set as ECU has accumulated a total of 883 helpers on the year.

Can You Dig It?
Senior libero Shelby Beasley leads ECU with 323 digs and is averaging 3.85 digs per set. Her digs per set average ranks her 10th in Conference USA. The Winter Park, Fla., native has done her part leading the Pirate defense as the squad has registered 1289 digs to average 15.35 per set which is good for third in the conference.

Block Party
Sophomore middle hitter Kierra Lee-Dunson owns a team-leading 71 total blocks for an average of 0.88 per set. Seniors Nicole Willis and Virginia Fitch are tied for second on the team with 43 total blocks each. Fitch is averaging 0.83 blocks per set, while Willis averages 0.51 per game. The trio have helped the Pirates rack up 165.5 total blocks for an average of 1.97 per set which ranks eight in Conference USA.

All-Tourney All The Time
The Pirates have competed in four tournaments this season and have come away with numerous All-Tournament team selections. Below is a list of ECU’s 2013 All-Tournament Team selections:

Name Tournament
Shelby Beasley - Wake Forest Deacon Invitational
Shelby Beasley - East Carolina Classic
Nicole Willis - East Carolina Classic
Zarah Cecich - Elon Phoenix Classic
Kierra Lee-Dunson - Elon Phoenix Classic
Nicole Willis - Elon Phoenix Classic, MVP
Torre Blake - Black and Gold Challenge

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 third in digs per set as it averages 15.35 and fourth in opponent hitting percentage as ECU has limited its counterparts to a .171 attack percentage. The Pirates’ 1.97 blocks per set average is good for eighth and ECU’s 1.12 service aces per set rank the Pirates 10th in league.

Pirates in the C-USA
Individually, senior opposite hitter Nicole Willis is ranked in two statistical categories in Conference USA. Willis averages 4.29 points per game and 3.79 kills per set and both are good for seventh in the league. Senior libero Shelby Beasley has amassed 323 digs to average 3.85 digs per set which ranks 10th in the conference. Junior setter Zarah Cecich leads the Pirates with 8.34 assists per set to rank 13th in C-USA, while sophomore middle hitter Kierra Lee-Dunson is hitting .298 and ranks 15th in the league.

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...
Next weekend, East Carolina travels to Hattiesburg, Miss., for a Friday night match-up with Southern Miss on November 1, at 8 p.m. ET., before returning to Greenville to play host to league newcomer Middle Tennessee on Sunday, November 3, at noon. Live stats will be available on