LAKELAND - Florida Southern concluded its stretch of five matches in eight days here Friday evening by gutting out a hard-fought four-set victory over Nova Southeastern (25-18, 22-25, 26-24, 25-15) in Sunshine State Conference action at Jenkins Field House.
The Moccasins, who have now won six straight matches in Jenkins Field House, used strong all-around play from sophomore outside hitter Kate Stromberg (Lexington, Kent.) and a strong defense that limited the Sharks to a .145 hitting percentage in earning the victory and improving to 14-7 overall and closing the first half of SSC play with a 5-3 record. NSU fell to 4-16 overall and 1-6 with the loss.
"I thought we came in focused and were ready to battle tonight," Mocs head coach Jill Stephens said. "Kate really played with a lot of maturity and did a great job of attacking the whole match."
Stromberg finished the night with a match-high 20 kills and added a career-high 22 digs for her ninth double-double of the season. Stromberg's strong play was none more evident over the final two sets as she had 12 of her kills in those two sets and hit .323. Additionally, she added nine digs in those final two sets, which resulted in wins for FSC after dropping the second set.
Along with Stromberg, senior outside hitter Anne Pietkiewicz (Winter Park, Fla.) contributed 10 kills and a season-high 18 digs for her ninth double-double of the season, while sophomore right side hitter Gabby Fernandez (Tampa, Fla.), who was named the SSC Offensive Player of the Week this past Monday, added nine kills and 10 digs in the win.
One of the big keys to the win for the Mocs was the play of freshman reserve setter Kendall Marotti (LaBelle, Fla.). Mariotti came into the second set and played the setter position over the final two-plus sets. She finished the night with career highs in both assists (29) and digs (8).
"Kendall really came in and really stepped up tonight when we needed her too," Stephens said. "She got into the flow of the match and did a good job setting up our attackers. She run a good offense for us."
In the first set, the Mocs jumped in front 4-0 and led 9-3 when the Sharks used an 8-2 run to tie the set at 11. The teams would trade points at that point before the Mocs used a 7-2 scoring run capped by a kill from Stromberg to push out to a 19-14 lead. NSU would pull within 20-17, but could get no closer as FSC scored five of the set's final six points to record a 25-18 win.
Unlike the first set, the second set was a back-and-forth affair as there were nine ties and two lead changes. NSU jumped out to an 8-3 lead to open the set, but the Mocs responded with an 8-3 run to tie the set at 11-all. The Sharks used a 5-2 run to take a 17-14 lead, but that lead would shrink as the Mocs responded with a 7-3 run aided by two Stromberg kills and capped by a service ace from Fernandez to take a 21-20 lead. That would be FSC's final lead of the set, as NSU, who has now dropped four straight and six of its last seven matches, closed the set on a 5-1 run to earn a 25-22 victory and even the match at a set apiece.
The third set was another marathon as it had seven ties and three lead changes. In the early going, the Mocs appeared to have things under control as they jumped out to a 10-5 lead, but the Sharks scored six straight points to take an 11-10 edge. NSU's lead would hold the lead for almost the rest of the set until the Mocs used a 4-0 run to turn a 23-20 deficit into a 24-23 lead following a block from junior middle blocker Dominique Hale (Kingman, Ariz.), who finished with six kills and two blocks in the match. After a service error by the Mocs tied the set at 24, Pietkiewicz and Marotti sealed the Mocs 26-24 win with back-to-back kills to take a 2-1 lead in the match.
"I thought were served tough and were able to make scoring runs tonight," said Stephens, who is 264-131 at the helm of her alma mater.
In the fourth set, the Mocs jumped in front 2-0 and never looked back as they at one point led 23-11 following a kill from Stromberg. After NSU pulled within 24-15 following a 4-1 run, the Mocs sealed the win on a kill from Stromberg off an assist from Marotti.
NSU was paced offensively by 12 kills and three blocks from Caitlin Donahue, while Syndey Cook and Dana Holger added 10 kills and combined for four blocks. Paige Boivin led NSU's defense with a match-high 25 digs and Holger had 18 as the Sharks finished with 94 digs on the night.
For the second straight match, FSC recorded 90-plus digs as they finished Friday's match with 94 after recording 93 in Tuesday's five-setter at Saint Leo.
The Mocs will now take a week off before returning to action next weekend at the Red Elephant Cafe South Region Crossover hosted by the University of Tampa. The Mocs will open the event on Friday, Oct. 19 at 10 a.m. against West Georgia, before facing West Florida at 2:30 p.m. FSC will conclude the event on Saturday, Oct. 20 against Christian Brothers at 1:15 p.m. All of the matches will be played at UT's Bob Martinez Athletic Center.