CHARLESTON, S.C. - It took a complete team effort on Friday night as Charleston Southern sits atop the Big South volleyball rankings following the Buccaneers' four-set win over visiting Radford on Friday night. The Bucs rallied back after dropping the first set to take the 22-25, 25-23, 26-24, 25-22 victory over the Highlanders and improve to 5-0 in conference play.
Redshirt senior right side hitter Connor Malone had a personal five-point swing to bring the Bucs (10-11, 5-0) back in the fourth set to erase a late Radford (16-4, 7-1) lead as CSU won the battle between the final two undefeated Big South teams in the 2016 season. Malone rallied CSU back from a 21-18 fourth set deficit with three straight kills and followed with back-to-back blocks to guide the Bucs to their second consecutive win over the Highlanders.
Charleston Southern hit .306 in the deciding fourth set and .228 overall in the match as a team to open conference play with a 5-0 record for just the second time in program history. The last time CSU opened the season 5-0 came in the 1988 season with the Bucs going on to win the Big South regular season and tournament championship.
"This win was a great confidence boost for our team," said head coach Christy Mooberry following the match. "It's super exciting and gives the girls a lot of confidence to build off of moving forward. We've had some people mention that we haven't played some teams that are high in the RPI and Radford's a really good team."
"I remember before the season, I put in one of the articles that I thought we could be Big South Champions," she continued. "I may be a little biased, but I saw the potential in them. We're still really young and it has been a fast learning curve for the girls. The progress they are making has been great and we're seeing the gains and having that play out on the court right now."
It was a total team effort for CSU throughout the statistics sheet as the Buccaneers showcased their athleticism and depth on the court. Addison Kaderli and Rachel Smith both recorded double-doubles in the match, Madison Martin tied CSU's single-match digs record and Brooke Monssen came off the bench to record 11 kills and eight blocks as the Bucs put together their most complete effort of the season in the win.
"I think this is the first time since I've been here that we've had the depth on our team to be able to spread and balance things well," Mooberry said. "It helps us offensively because opponents don't know who is going to get the ball. We have more than one or two capable hitters on the court at all times which has helped us this season. Our defensive is also strong and we're not trying to hide people in our rotation. This is what is should look like."
Martin's 36 digs tied the CSU single match record set by teammate Taylor Allman back in 2014. The sophomore libero recorded 10 digs apiece in the first and third sets, and 11 in the fourth to pace CSU's defensive efforts in the match.
"Madi wants every ball and she'll do anything she can to get there," Mooberry said. "That's what you want in a libero; someone who wants to touch every ball. I think that's why you see such high numbers from here because she is aggressive in her pursuit every time she steps on the court."
Monssen, in her first action as a middle blocker this season, made a difference when she stepped on the court in the second set. The Jacksonville, N.C. native put in five kills during the frame and added two blocks to spark CSU off the bench. She finished with 11 kills, eight blocks, and a .474 hitting percentage on the night.
"That was straight-up stud status from Brooke tonight," Mooberry said. "She's never practiced in that position, but due to injuries, she stepped up when we needed her. She went out there and owned the position tonight."
Addison Kaderli led CSU's offensive efforts with 13 kills and completed her sixth double-double of the season with 11 digs. Malone finished with 12 kills and five blocks (two solo) for the Bucs, while Kylie Klein added 10 kills and a .375 hitting percentage from the floor. Rachel Smith added 46 assists and 11 digs to complete her 11th double-double of the season.
Maddie Palmer led all players with 20 kills and added 18 digs to pace the Highlanders on Friday night. Haley Kleespies set up the offense with 55 assists and added 21 digs, while Kelby Jackson was the team leader with 23 digs on the backline.
Charleston Southern remains at home on Saturday afternoon as the Buccaneers continue Big South play against Liberty. First serve on the Big South Network in the Buccaneer Field House is set for 2 p.m.
Macey LaPorte served the Bucs to a 10-6 lead in the first set with the freshman utility player connecting on three service aces in her first rotation. The Highlanders rallied back with a 7-1 run to take the 13-11 lead following a Sydney Tekstra kill. The Bucs took a late lead at 22-21 following an RU attack error before the Highlanders were able to close out the frame with four straight points to take the 1-0 lead.
CSU broke the second set open with an 8-1 run on their way to building the largest lead of the night by either team. The Bucs went ahead 18-11 following back-to-back RU attack errors before the Highlanders mounted a late comeback. CSU's lead was cut down to 24-23 following a Valerie Gonzalez kill before Malone sealed the Bucs' win with the final point of the frame.
Radford held a five-point advantage late in the third set with Maddie Palmer putting the Highlanders ahead 21-16 following her fourth kill of the set. The Buccaneers rallied back on LaPorte's service utilizing a 5-0 run to tie the frame up at 21-21. CSU held set point at 24-23 following Monssen's fourth kill of the frame, but Palmer answered with a kill of her own to extend the set. Following an RU attack error, Western and Monssen combined for the final block to give the Bucs the 2-1 lead with the 26-24 set win.
The Highlanders again held a late lead in the fourth set before Malone took over for CSU. The Scottsdale, Ariz. native connected on three straight kills to turn a 21-18 deficit into a 21-21 tie. She followed with a solo block to give the Bucs the lead and then teamed up with Monssen for a second block to put CSU ahead 23-21 late. Following a Tekstra kill, Monssen and Klein connected on back-to-back kills to close out the match and the Bucs win.