ECU Set to Take on Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee

UABSPORTS.COM Kierra Lee-Dunson and Teynia Shepherd
Kierra Lee-Dunson and Teynia Shepherd

Oct. 31, 2013

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GREENVILLE, N.C. –East Carolina will play a pair of matches this weekend in a road contest at Southern Miss followed by a home match versus Middle Tennessee. On Friday, November 1, ECU will go up against the Golden Eagles in Hattiesburg, Miss., at 8 p.m. ET. Following that match, the Pirates will return to Minges Coliseum to take on the Blue Raiders in Greenville, N.C., on Sunday, November 3, at noon.

The Series vs. Southern Miss
The Pirates and the Golden Eagles will meet for the 22nd time in program history and Southern Miss leads the all-time series 14-7. East Carolina is looking for its first win over the Golden Eagles since 2007 as Southern Miss has won the last 10 meetings. Last season, the Golden Eagles defeated the Pirates in five sets on two separate occasions. The last time ECU was victorious over Southern Miss was when the Pirates swept the Golden Eagles, 3-0, in Greenville in 2007. East Carolina has not defeated Southern Miss in Hattiesburg, Miss., since 2006 when the Pirates edged out the Golden Eagles, 3-2.

The Series vs. Middle Tennessee
East Carolina and Middle Tennessee will face off for the first time in program history on Sunday, November 3. Last season, the Blue Raiders competed in the Sun Belt Conference, before joining Conference USA on July 1, 2013.

Last Time Out
East Carolina dropped a close five-set contest against Florida Atlantic on Monday night as the Pirates fell to 11-15 on the year and 2-7 in Conference USA action. The Pirates were led by freshman Bella Borgiotti’s career-high 26 assists as she, along with junior Zarah Cecich, helped control a balanced ECU offense that out-hit the Owls .201-.190. In addition to her 26 helpers, Borgiotti added nine digs, three kills, and one block assist. Cecich registered 23 assists with a career-best 16 digs for her third double-double of the year. She also contributed six kills and three block assists while hitting a match-high .385. Senior opposite hitter Nicole Willis led the offensive attack with 15 kills to go along with four digs and three block assists. Middle hitter Virginia Fitch tied her season-high with eight kills, while adding a match-high seven total blocks. Defensively, the Pirates were led by senior libero Shelby Beasley who notched a match-high 20 digs. Whitney Campbell also added double-figure digs with 11, while posting six kills and one block assist. The Pirates and the Owls went back and forth throughout the match as they traded set wins. But, Florida Atlantic used a 7-0 run in the final frame to win the five-set battle, 3-2 [25-17, 21-25, 25-20, 21-25, 10-25].

About the Pirates
ECU comes into the weekend against Southern Miss and Middle Tennessee with an 11-15 overall record and a 2-7 Conference USA mark. The Pirates have dropped four of their last five contests and are looking to get back on the winning track and secure a place in the Conference USA Tournament. As a team, East Carolina has knocked down 1061 kills (11.41 per set) for a .162 attack percentage. The Pirates are a defensively strong team that is averaging 15.46 digs per set to rank third in C-USA, while limiting opponents to a .172 hitting percentage which is good for fourth in the league. ECU is led offensively by Nicole Willis who averages 3.77 kills per set and 4.27 points per set. Her points per set average ranks sixth in the conference, while her kills per set ratio is good for seventh. Willis also adds 2.94 digs per set, for second on the squad, along with a team-leading 0.19 service aces per set. Senior libero Shelby Beasley is the team’s leader in digs with 366 to average 3.94 which ranks 10th in C-USA. Zarah Cecich, a junior setter from Crown Point, Ind., has set the offensive tone with 709 assists to average 8.06 per set to rank 13th in the league. Cecich has also recorded 155 digs (1.76 per set), 72 kills (0.82 per set) and 38 total blocks (0.43 per set). Sophomore middle hitter Kierra Lee-Dunson is the Pirates’ leader in blocks as she has tallied 79 to average 0.88 per set. Lee-Dunson also adds 140 kills for an average of 1.56 per set.

Scouting the Golden Eagles
Southern Miss brings a 12-12 overall record and a 3-6 Conference USA ledger into the match versus East Carolina. The Golden Eagles are 6-3 at home this season and have lost their last two contests at Middle Tennessee (3-1) and at Tulsa (3-1). Southern Miss owns a 10-3 record in three set matches, but is 1-5 in four-set contests and 1-4 in five-set affairs. The Golden Eagles are hitting .222 as a team and are averaging 13.22 kills per set and 12.60 assists per game. Defensively, Southern Miss averages 14.36 digs per set to go along with 1.75 blocks per set. Quinci Howard leads the Golden Eagle offense with 354 kills to average 4.02 per set which ranks fifth in Conference USA. Kristen Fleming is the team’s primary setter with 956 assists for an average of 10.86 per set to rank her third in the league. Mary Pursell’s 420 digs and average of 4.77 per set are good for fourth in the conference, while Elise Ames leads the Golden Eagles with 73 total blocks (0.86 per set).

Scouting the Blue Raiders
Middle Tennessee comes to Minges Coliseum with a 14-8 overall record and a 6-2 Conference USA mark to rank fifth in the conference standings. The Blue Raiders have won four of their last five matches with their only loss coming against Louisville (3-0) in a non-conference affair. As a team, Middle Tennessee is hitting .240 and averaging 12.54 kills per set. The Blue Raiders have amassed 936 digs to average 11.56 per set and own 191.5 total blocks for an average of 2.36 per set. Chelsea Ross leads the Blue Raiders with 273 kills for an average of 3.37 per set which ranks 12th in the league. Shelby Anderton and Kendall Howard share setter duties as Anderton has collected 510 assists (6.30 per set) and Howard has added 350 (5.00 per set). On defense, the Blue Raiders are led by Howard’s 266 digs which average 4.09 per set for ninth-place in C-USA. Tyler Richardson leads both Middle Tennessee and Conference USA with 99 total blocks for an average of 1.22 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 3.77 kills per set and 4.27 points per set and both are nationally ranked marks. Her points per game average is good for 56th in the NCAA, while her kills per set ratio ranks her 60th.

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 1,305. She is 43 digs away from second place. Cecich moved up to ninth on the all-time assists list with 1,741 helpers. The Crown Point, Ind., native is 38 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 351 kills to average 3.77 per set. The Raleigh, N.C., native has also contributed 273 digs (2.94 per set), 48 blocks (0.52 per set), 27 assists, and a team-leading 18 service aces. She has notched double-digit kills in 21 out of 26 contests this season. She has also led the team in kills in 24 of 26 contests and has recorded a team-high 14 double-doubles. Willis’ kills per set average ranks her seventh in the conference and 60th in the NCAA. Additionally, she averages 4.27 points per set which is good for sixth in the league and 56th in the nation.

Helping Hands
East Carolina is platooning junior Zarah Cecich and freshman Bella Borgiotti at setter. The duo have combined for 880 assists this year. On the season, Cecich has registered 709 assists (8.06 per set), while Borgiotti has added 171 (5.34 per set). The pair have helped the Pirates average 10.63 assists per set as ECU has accumulated a total of 989 helpers on the year.

Can You Dig It?
Senior libero Shelby Beasley leads ECU with 366 digs and is averaging 3.94 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 1438 digs to average 15.46 per set which is good for third in the conference.

Block Party
Sophomore middle hitter Kierra Lee-Dunson owns a team-leading 79 total blocks for an average of 0.88 per set. Senior Virginia Fitch is second on the team with 53 total block for an average of 0.87 blocks per set. The duo have helped the Pirates rack up 187.5 total blocks for an average of 2.02 per set which ranks seventh 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:

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 11 victories thus far, which is more than five times 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 defensively strong Pirates have ranked in the Conference USA top 10 in three categories - all defensive. East Carolina is third in digs per set as it averages 15.46 and fourth in opponent hitting percentage as ECU has limited its counterparts to a .172 attack percentage. The Pirates’ 2.02 blocks per set average is good for seventh.

Pirates in the C-USA
Individually, senior opposite hitter Nicole Willis is ranked in two statistical categories in Conference USA. Willis averages 4.27 points per game which ranks per sixth in the league. Her 3.77 kills per set average is good for seventh. Senior libero Shelby Beasley has amassed 366 digs to average 3.94 digs per set which ranks 10th in the conference. Sophomore middle hitter Kierra Lee-Dunson is hitting .303 and ranks 12th in the league, while junior setter Zarah Cecich leads the Pirates with 8.06 assists per set to rank 13th in C-USA.

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.

Coming Up...
Next week East Carolina heads to Greensboro, N.C., to take on North Carolina A&T in a non-conference match on Tuesday, November 5, at 7 p.m. The Pirates return to Greenville for their final regular-season home match on Sunday, November 10, against Conference USA newcomer Charlotte. First serve is set for 2 p.m. The Charlotte match is also senior day in which ECU’s five seniors in Shelby Beasley, Whitney Campbell, Virginia Fitch, Andrea Queck, and Nicole Willis will be honored prior to the contest. Live stats and video for the ECU-Charlotte match will be available on