PEORIA, Ill. -- Despite strong comebacks late, Belmont Volleyball (1-5) was unable to overcome slow starts on the first day of the CEFCU Invitational. The Bruins were held off 3-0 by host-Bradley (1-3) before going to extra sets before falling to DePaul (4-1), 3-1.
After trading points to open the first meeting between the programs since 2005, it was the Braves who was first to put distance between the teams, going up 9-4. Belmont called for a timeout to regroup and looked for a way to build offensive rhythm. Bradley rolled off 10 consecutive points to take a commanding lead and did not look back. Belmont called timeout, trailing by double digits and saw junior MacKenzie Harless (Brownsburg, Ind.) knock down a hard kill right after the break, hoping to spark a rally. However, the Braves were able to hold on for the 25-11 win.
Belmont looked to rebound in the second frame but another slow point build at the start saw the Bruins call the first timeout. The Bruins used a 3-0 run to close the set to a three-point differential, 9-6, capped with a service ace by sophomore Carly Mason (Forsyth, Ill.). Through the midpoint of the set, sophomore Faith Cobaugh (Union, Ky.) made some great defensive saves to keep the Bruins in the action. Belmont closed the gap to four points, 17-13. Suddenly, the Bruins exploded behind back-to-back attacks by junior Mackenzie LePage (Franklin, Tenn.) that helped to close the gap to just two points, 18-16. The sudden flurry forced a stunned Bradley to call its first timeout of the contest. The visitors were able to repeat the feat again, using a 4-0 run to close the gap to two points, 22-20, forcing the Braves to burn their final timeout of the set. However, Bradley was able to rally for the final handful of points to take the set, 25-22.
The third set saw the Braves quickly take a five-point lead, 11-6, but the Bruins began cooking a slow rally to stay in the contest. Freshman Lauren Walsh (Torrance, Calif.) knocked down a couple of crucial kills that helped keep Belmont in striking distance down the stretch. The Bruins called for their final timeout, trailing by eight points but it was not enough as Bradley took the final frame, 25-18.
For the match, Belmont was led in kills by sophomores Mary Catherine Ball (Hendersonville, N.C.) and Taylor Floyd (Louisville, Ky.), who each recorded five. Mason tallied 17 assists in the effort. Cobaugh and Mason both posted 11 digs. Freshman Kailee Bass (Aurora, Ill.) notched a solo block and a match-high six block assists.
BU faced off against DePaul in the evening session and got off to a hot start. Belmont used a 5-0 run, including a pair of service aces by Ball, to take the lead but the Blue Demons fired back with a duplicate effort and took a 10-8 lead. After the quick change of fortune, the Bruins called for a break in the action and quickly recovered, knotting the score at 18, thanks to kills by Ball, Kailee Bass and Floyd. The teams in their first meeting since 2005 traded points until DePaul took a slim 20-19 lead. BU called for its second timeout before coming out swinging, forcing four scoring stalemates. Consecutive errors by the Blue Demons was enough to lift Belmont to a 24-22 advantage. However, the score would continue to be tied as extra points would be needed to decide the frame. DU finally emerged as the winner, 27-25.
The Bruins opened the second stanza with a flurry of points to take a quick 5-3 lead behind kills from Walsh and Ball. The Blue Demons rallied behind a 6-0 run to grab its first lead of the frame, 10-6, but BU continued to battle back. With the help of back-to-back service aces by junior Halee Van Poppel (Argyle, Texas), Belmont pulled to within one point, 13-12, pushing DU to call timeout. BU stayed within two points through the midpoint of the set before the Blue Demons blew their lead back up to four points, 20-16. DePaul was able to maintain the four-point differential down the stretch and hold on for the 25-21 win.
Belmont jumped out to hot start to open the third frame before the Blue Demons were able to knot the score and surge to take the lead, 11-7. The Bruins were forced to burn a timeout to reset, hustling to pull within striking distance. BU put together a 4-0 run to pull within two, 18-16, pushing DePaul to call for a timeout. Belmont did not let up and went on to take the lead 19-17 before the score was stalemated once again. DePaul continued its slow creep towards set point and rallied late to pull ahead, 24-21, forcing BU to call for timeout. However, the Bruins were unable to keep the Blue Demons from adding one more point as they went on to take the set, 25-21.
The Blue Demons rolled off five consecutive points to open the fourth set before BU recorded its first. The Bruins slowly combined DePaul errors and a 3-0 run to steadily chip away at the point differential, inching as close as four, 18-14. DU continued its rally and crossed the 20-point threshold with the help of late kills. The Bruins calls for a break in the action, hoping to snap a scoring flurry but DePaul went on to add four points that put it ahead, 22-15. Despite a pair of late kills by Ball, the Blue Demons were able to push on for the 25-18 win.
For the contest, Ball picked up her second double-double of the season with a match-high 19 kills and 10 digs. Walsh also reached double digits in kills, adding a season-high 11, and added her first collegiate double-double with 11 digs. Mason tallied a match-high 35 assists. Four Bruins reached double digits in digs, led by sophomore Peyton Kelley (Normal, Ill.), who recorded 16, followed by Mason with 13, Walsh's 11, and Ball's 10. Kailee Bass finished with a match-high six block assists.
Belmont returns to action on Saturday for the final match of the CEFCU Invitational. The Bruins face off against Oakland with first serve set for 10:30 a.m. Live stats will be available and fans can follow the team's Twitter account (@BelmontVB) for live, in-game updates.