East Lansing, Mich. -- The Youngstown State volleyball team started the 2012 season with a heartbreaking five-set loss to Eastern Kentucky on Friday in the first match of the Spartan Showcase at Jenison Field House.
The Penguins, making their debut with first-year head coach Mark Hardaway, won the first two sets and had a total of six match points before falling to the Colonels.
YSU ended the first two sets strongly to win 25-19 and 25-20, but the Guins couldn't find the same closing power after taking the 2-0 lead. Eastern Kentucky rallied from a 24-22 deficit in the third set to win 26-24 and cruised to a 25-15 win in the fourth to tie the match. The Penguins led by six twice in the fifth set and held a 14-10 advantage before EKU scored the final six points of the contest.
Sophomore middle blocker Shannon Watson finished with a career-high 17 kills, and fellow middle blocker Aly Ryan posted seven kills and six blocks in her Penguins debut. The two combined for 29 points, which is the most by YSU's middle hitters in a match since the season finale in 2009. Junior Missy Hundelt had 10 kills but was blocked eight times, including three times in the fifth set.
Kelsey Kuehner posted 12 kills and six blocks for Eastern Kentucky, which returned six starters from last year's team that won 14 matches.
Watson had four kills, and Hundelt recorded three without an error in the first set as YSU beat the Colonels 25-19. The Penguins never trailed in the set and led 11-4 after an Erika West ace. Eastern Kentucky rallied to tie the set at 14, but Youngstown State scored the next two points and five straight to end the set. A Watson kill started the final run, and two Chelsea Guerrieri aces set up Hundelt's kill at set point.
Watson and Ryan combined for eight kills and a .667 attack percentage in the second set to carry the Penguins to a 25-20 win. EKU led 7-6 when the Penguins jumped ahead 10-7 behind Alexis Egler's serve. The Colonels tied the set at 10 and scored five straight points later to knot it at 20. After Hardaway called a time out, EKU's Rachel Vick committed a serving error for a YSU side out, and the Penguins closed out the set on West's serve. Watson had three kills in the final four points.
The Penguins hit .027 in the third set but still had two match points thanks to five aces. YSU trailed 11-8 but went on a 9-1 run behind Casey D'Ambrose's serve to take a 17-12 lead. EKU answered with an 8-3 run to tie the set at 20, but two points from Egler and a Ryan kill put YSU up 24-22. The Colonels got two kills to tie the set then won it with a Watson error and a Vick block.
Eastern Kentucky scored the first five points in the fourth set and never led by fewer than four after the score was 5-2, but the Penguins rebounded to start strongly in the fifth. YSU led 9-3 following an Egler ace, but YSU had service errors on each of its next two attempts. That helped Eastern Kentucky work its way back to make the score 13-10, but a Hundelt kill gave the Penguins a 14-10 advantage and the serve. An Alexis Plagens kill gave EKU a side out, and the Colonels went on to score five more points consecutively without posting another kill. Hundelt was blocked at 14-11, 14-13 and 14-15, Egler had an attack error and West had a receiving error.
Eastern Kentucky finished with 11 blocks as a team, and Youngstown State posted nine. D'Ambrose finished with 41 assists, and West had 22 digs.
The Penguins will have two chances to collect their first win on Saturday. They will play Michigan State at noon and McNeese State at 5:30 p.m.