PEORIA, Ill. -- For the first time this season, Belmont University Volleyball was forced into a fifth set to decide a match on Saturday. The Bruins (1-6) were edged, 3-2, by Oakland (4-2) in their final match of the CEFCU Invitational, hosted by Bradley.
The contest opened with an intense back and forth battle with neither team letting the opponent get more than two points ahead of the other. Suddenly, the Bruins used a 5-0 run to pull ahead, 16-13, forcing the Golden Grizzlies to call timeout. Belmont remained ahead until Oakland used a quick flurry to knot the score and take a one-point lead, 19-18. BU, who called for a huddle session, was able to settle down and refocus. After three ties, sophomore Taylor Floyd (Louisville, Ky.) knocked down a hard kill and was followed by freshman Lauren Walsh (Torrance, Calif.), who drilled a service ace to lift Belmont to set point. OU called for a timeout but it did not stop the inevitable as the Bruins clenched the 25-22 win after a Golden Grizzlies error.
Belmont carried their hot momentum over into the second stanza, rolling off three straight points to open, including a service ace by sophomore Carly Mason (Forsyth, Ill.). The match fell back into another back and forth battle with the score being knotted 15 times before a team relented and called for a timeout. After the OU called break, Belmont surged and used kills from junior Halee Van Poppel (Argyle, Texas) and Walsh to inch closer to set point. Oakland attempted to match BU stride for stride down the stretch before needing to call a timeout with set point in reach for Belmont. The Bruins picked up the final three points for the 26-24 win, thanks to Walsh, Van Poppel and junior MacKenzie Harless (Brownsburg, Ind.).
Set three saw the Bruins fall behind early, 5-1 but quickly rallied behind three consecutive kills from Harless, Walsh and Van Poppel. The Golden Grizzlies pushed again but this time Belmont called for a timeout to settle down after falling behind, 15-6. After the break, OU continued to roll and cruised to the 25-12 win.
BU came out swinging to rebound in the fourth set but soon Oakland was able to knot the score and used a 4-0 run to pull ahead, 9-6. The Bruins called for a brief break in the action but the Golden Grizzlies kept pushing and blew their lead up to eight points, 18-10. Belmont began to chip away at the OU lead behind kills from Van Poppel, Floyd and Walsh. A flurry saw Belmont close the gap to 22-15 but OU was able to hold on for the 25-17 win.
The Golden Grizzlies forced a fifth set and the teams were close early, both seeking to take control of the final frame. OU doubled up on Belmont, pulling ahead, 6-3. BU responded by calling for a timeout. Oakland pressed again, rolling off three consecutive points to take an 8-3 lead at the switch. The Golden Grizzlies quickly added a handful of points to pull ahead, this time 12-6. Belmont burned its final timeout of the frame. Spurred by a powerful kill by sophomore Mary Catherine Ball, the Bruins rolled off three points to close to within four, 13-9. A frustrated OU bench called timeout as BU kept clawing. Unfortunately, time was not on Belmont's side as Oakland was able to take the final set, 15-10.
For the contest, Walsh led the Bruins in kills with a total of 13 and picked up her second double-double of the season with 14 digs. Van Poppel recorded 10 kills in the effort. Junior Akia Warrior (Fort Worth, Texas) and Mason tallied 23 and 22 assists, respectively. Sophomore Peyton Kelley (Normal, Ill.) posted a match-high 17 digs. Freshman Kailee Bass (Aurora, Ill.) logged a solo block and finished with five block assists.
Belmont returns to action on Tuesday evening in the Curb Event Center. The Bruins host long-time rival Lipscomb for the annual Battle of the Boulevard. First serve is set for 6 p.m. Live stats will be available and the contest can be seen live on ESPN+. Fans may also follow the team's Twitter account (@BelmontVB) for live, in-game updates.