By Billy Owens
BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md. - Despite a miraculous first set comeback that saw the Knights erase a 12-point deficit, they ultimately could not stave off the visiting Cecil College Seahawks, falling 3-1 in Maryland Juco action Tuesday evening.
Essex (7-10, 2-4 Maryland Juco) was coming off a third-place finish at the CCBC Essex Knights Volleyball Tournament two days prior to the match, having played four grueling matches over the course of the weekend.
"We couldn't pass," head coach Geoffrey Koger said. "[Cecil] had one server that we couldn't pass and then they just kept everything in. We went over it in practice and that didn't help."
Cecil (8-4, 6-1 Maryland Juco) stormed out to an early 8-5 lead in the opening set. Strong serving and Essex's struggles with serve receive helped stretch that lead all the way to 17-5.
The Knights finally started finding some rhythm at 18-7 when freshman libero Nicole Lopez Santos struck two consecutive aces. Still down 22-16, the Knights went on a seven-point run to steal their first lead of the set since being up 2-1.
Two aces by freshman middle hitter Jennae James, three kills by sophomore outside hitter Ann Benzinger and another kill by freshman middle hitter Emily Dutton helped put Essex up 23-22 and steal the opening set 25-23.
"We got all our serves in when we needed to," Koger said. "Our passing was on like there was no tomorrow."
The Knights seemed to carry this momentum early into the second set as they quickly went up 4-0. The Seahawks then won four straight points of their own to tie it at 4-4 before the Knights won another four straight for 8-4.
Most of the second set was back-and-forth between the two teams, but Essex eventually found itself up 23-19 and two points away from a two-set advantage.
It wasn't to be for the Knights, though, as the Seahawks rallied to win six straight points and take the second set 25-23 to level the match.
Essex again got its nose out in front early in the third set, thanks to two kills by freshman outside hitter Annette Thrappas, Cecil quickly roared back to take the lead at 10-9 and didn't look back, remaining comfortably in front to close out the third set 25-15.
The fourth set closely resembled the third, as the Knights started quickly with a 5-1 lead that soon crumbled to a 7-5 deficit.
Two consecutive blocks from freshman middle blocker Taylor Bundy helped shrink a 13-7 Cecil lead to just 13-10, while three kills apiece between Benzinger and Thrappas throughout the set kept Essex within striking distance.
The Seahawks managed to close it out 25-16 in the fourth after winning five straight points from 20-16 and converting on their lone match point opportunity.
"When we're on, we side out very well," Koger said. "But when we can't pass and their setter's chasing the balls around the court, we don't do well, and that's what happened. They were solid and we were definitely not."
Essex aims to improve its conference standing later this week as the team travels to face Anne Arundel Community College Thursday evening. First serve is scheduled for 6 p.m.