BIRMINGHAM, Ala. ---- Down 2-1, the Samford Bulldogs (4-0) rallied to win 3-2 against the Alabama Crimson Tide (3-1), the first victory against Alabama in volleyball program history. Samford out-hit the Crimson Tide in three of the five sets, with numerous Bulldogs contributing significantly on offense and defense.
"We are learning that there are a lot of different ways to win," said Head Coach Derek Schroeder, "and we're gaining confidence from it. We took our foot off the gas after game one and almost paid for it, but we found a way to flow again.
"Chelsi Carter, Casey Garvey, Elizabeth Neisler and Lauren Hutchinson all made huge plays at key times in sets four and five to lead us to a win!"
Hutchinson, Neisler and Katie Murphy all had double-digit kills in five sets and at least six blocks each. Samford held the edge in serve percentage, .903-.891, including three service aces by Neisler. The teams were neck-and-neck statistically except in blocks, where Samford dominated the Crimson Tide at the net 27-7.
Samford looked to make a statement early, jumping ahead 6-1 in the first set and forcing an Alabama timeout. The Bulldogs never relented the lead, though the Crimson Tide threatened late pulling within three at the 21-18 mark. Samford was in a good position at the end however, with their primary server Casey Garvey serving three straight, with kills by Neisler and Hutchinson sealing the 25-18 victory in the first set.
In the second set, it was Alabama that earned the early lead, jumping ahead 12-4 thanks to long service rallies. The Bulldogs stayed in the game and after a timeout, down 16-9, the Bulldogs went on a 4-1 run forcing an Alabama timeout. Alabama went on a late run however to eventually pull away 25-17.
The third set started much like the second, with the Crimson Tide earning early momentum. Down 13-6, the Bulldogs started the chip away at the lead, with Hutchinson, Neisler and Michaela Reesor all earning crucial kills in the middle of the game. For every Samford point, Alabama answered right back with the two teams trading points. Reesor and Alexis Bauer had multi-serve rallies in the closing moments, only down four at the 23-19 mark. The Crimson Tide earned two quick points however to poise themselves for a match victory.
After two sets hitting .129 and .281, the Bulldogs hit .303 in the fourth set, their best of the night, helping to earn the 25-18 victory. Though the score was identical to the first set, the pace was not as neither team could grab early momentum. Samford began to pull away tied at 13, with Murphy earning a kill, giving Reesor a chance to knock off four successful services in a row. Up 20-15, Alabama took a timeout and Alexis Bauer earned her own four-service run with Neisler securing the victory.
The 400-plus fans at the Pete Hanna Center were rocking heading into the deciding fifth set. At the halfway point, Samford held the 8-4 edge, though Alabama refused to give up, drawing within two as Samford took a timeout up 10-8. The Bulldogs managed to hold a slim lead most of the second half, but Alabama gained their first lead of the set at 14-13, one point away from stopping the Bulldog comeback. Neisler slammed one home to tie the game at 14, then Carter put another one away to give Samford the 15-14 lead. Alabama tied it at 15 but Murphy earned back-to-back kills in an exciting 17-15 finish to secure the 3-2 Samford victory.
Next, Samford hits the road for the first time this season, competing at the Jaguar Classic in Mobile, Ala. Their first of three matches is on Friday, Sept. 2 against Alabama A&M at 3 p.m.