The Catamounts came to Hawkins Arena Friday night deciding they were determined to give the Bears a run for their money.
The first set went to the Catamounts, 21 – 25. The two teams traded the lead until the last couple of points where Western Carolina ran off to finish the set. Even with impressive efforts from Paige Alsten, who had 5 kills, and Megan Smith who kept the team in action with 6 digs, the Bears lost a hold of their ability to hang on with the Catamounts.
At the beginning of the second set, Western Carolina continued their momentum from the first, running up a 1 – 5 score before Mercer head coach Derek Schroeder called a timeout. Alsten was able to end the Catamounts’ five point run with a kill, which helped set the Bears up to pull off an impressive second set comeback.
Slowly but surely, the Bears were able to close the gap with their opponents. A block from Alste tied the set up at 13 – 13. Mercer took their first lead of the set after Brittany Major made the second consecutive block for the Bears.
Major may have been the most impressive player on the court in the second set, adding 8 kills to Mercer’s score and bringing her total up to 9 before halftime. Alsten managed to double her number of kills to 10.
After a back and forth showdown with both teams showing their maximum effort, the Bears finally took the second set 28 – 26.
The story didn’t change much in the third set. Western Carolina came out strong, at one point leading the Bears by three points, 4 – 7. This lead did not last for very long. An unrelenting effort by both teams’ players once again put the two opponents in a crunch as neither seemed capable of taking a comfortable lead.
However, in the end, Bears took their second consecutive set 25 – 23.
In the fourth set, the Bears came in fired up and did not waste time tying things up with the Catamounts. The Bears took an early secure lead and did not relinquish it for the rest of the remaining match. Although the Catamounts attempted to stage a comeback in their final few serves, it was not enough to bridge the gap and the set ended at 25 – 20, giving Mercer the 3 – 1 win.
“It’s always a close one with Western Carolina,” Head Coach Derek Schroeder said after the match. “They play such good defense and they’re such a scrappy team they manage to keep everything close.”
Schroeder said due to this his team had to show resilience and finish to pull off the win, which he said he was satisfied with.
Paige Alsten and Brittany Major shined during the match, racking up 18 and 15 kills respectively.
“They’re weapons you know what I mean,” Schroeder said. “Brittany is a major weapon for us (pun intended).”
Saturday Mercer went up against another conference rival, UNCG, in a game that the Bears lost in five sets. As opposed to their match against Western Carolina which gave Mercer their first SoCon win, this match would be Mercer’s first loss in the conference.
In the first set, the Bears took an early lead, 11 – 4, which came into play as the Spartans performed a five point streak that would have been dangerous Mercer in any other situation. Eventually, UNCG caught up and held the Bears at a tie at several moments during the match.
The Bears eventually responded with an 8 – 1 run lead by Roberta Todd and would finish the set at 25 – 22.
However, the Spartans responded in kind by winning the next set 20 – 25. After taking an early lead, the Bears found themselves within one point on two occasions, but UNCG eventually settled the set without much protest from Mercer.
In almost pattern like fashion, the two teams traded wins on the next two sets to put the match into a fifth, which saw some of the most ferocity out of the entire competition.
At one point in the match the Bears pulled off a 5 – 1 run after being down for most of the set to tie things up at 12. But UNCG was able to pull off the final three points from a 14 – 13 deficit to wrap up the game.
The Bears will travel this weekend to face their next SoCon match against Furman in Greensville, SC.