While the Owls are showing signs of camaraderie 11 matches into the season, the more experienced opponents they put on their slate are still humbling them.
Kennesaw State wrapped up the Owls Classic on Saturday night with a 25-20, 25-15, 25-18 loss to UAB at the KSU Convocation Center.
The Owls also lost to Troy in five sets Saturday morning, after opening the tournament Friday with a five-set victory over Eastern Kentucky.
The Owls (4-7) were missing two starters over the weekend. Top offensive player Alyssa Lang went down with an undisclosed injury in their three-set loss to Georgia last Tuesday, and there’s no timetable for her return. Baylee Strachan was also sidelined Saturday night and was seen wearing a boot on her foot.
“It really gives your younger kids a chance to step up, but it also takes a lot of win out of your sails,” Kennesaw State coach Karen Weatherington said. “We’re getting our young folks some seasoning, so I always try to look at the opportunity to challenge people and compete.”
UAB (7-2) had a size advantage over the Owls, and that made it difficult for them to go on long service runs. The Blazers had seven blocks in the match — to Kennesaw State’s two — and they also had a .368 attack percentage to KSU’s .217.
The 6-foot-2 Kristin Gallagher led UAB with 13 kills, while the 6-3 Michele Simmons had seven block assists.
“They had some great line hits, first of all. They were unstoppable there,” said Kennesaw State’s Justine Young, who led the Owls with 10 kills. “We needed to come out running a quicker offense. We didn’t exactly execute it, but we tried our best.”
Former Harrison standout Holly Knight, freshman Keyaira Stevenson and Emily Bean each had six kills. Stevenson and Rachael Albright led with eight digs to lead the way, while Sara Metroka dished out 27 assists.
Kennesaw State was competitive in all three sets, but the Blazers dominated once they reached 20 points. They won each set on either two- or three-point service runs. When the Owls strung together some service points to either tie or take the lead, UAB would respond with a long run of their own to recapture the lead.
The Owls had their chances in the third set when they rallied from three points down on Knight’s serve and eventually took a 12-11 lead. But a five-point service run by UAB libero Heather Thomas, who led with four aces, put the Blazers back into the driver’s seat.
The Owls also made an impressive rally in the first set that started on Knight’s serve. Trailing by four, they cut the lead in half on a couple of UAB miscues. Then they tied the set at 12-all on their next service run on kills by Young and Emily Bean.
But the first set was lost when Thomas took serve. The Blazers won five straight on Thomas’ serve with Thomas hitting three straight aces during the run.
In the second set, UAB jumped to a 3-0 lead. Kennesaw State battled to tie at 5-all before letting the set slip away on a couple of careless hitting errors. A pair of miscues gave the Blazers an 11-7 lead and the Owls never recovered.
Kennesaw State will venture to Denton, Texas, next weekend to play in the North Texas Volleyball Classic. The Owls will match up against Jackson State, Texas State and North Texas before opening their Atlantic Sun Conference schedule at home Sept. 23 against Belmont.