TUSCALOOSA It was a perfect setting to open the 2006 season. Unfortunately for the Crimson Tide volleyball team, the ending didn’t go quite as planned, as Alabama dropped a dramatic five-game decision in the Academy Sports Invitational to the visiting Miami Hurricanes in the CAVE on Friday night.
A raucous season-opening crowd welcomed the Tide back in its home opener, but Miami was able to overcome the enthusiastic Alabama crowd to sneak out the win.
“I think we learned some things tonight,” head coach Judy Green said. “One being that the opponents on our schedule this year are better. Better opponents will make you play at a high level for a long period of time, so you have to sustain your concentration for longer period of time.”
After drawing first blood in game one with eight kills by Crystal Hudson, who turned in one of the best performances of her career, the Tide hit a wall. Miami won games two and three by scores of 30-20 and 30-21 to take a 2-1 advantage.
Alabama, with its back to the wall, struck back in what was probably its best game of the night in game four. Hudson and Brooks Webster, who had the best match of her young career in an Alabama uniform, led the Tide to a 30-21 victory.
“I was really impressed by our ability to win game four and force the fifth game,” head coach Judy Green said. “That shows a lot about the character of this team, to have gotten down like that and to bring it back.”
The Alabama win set up a dramatic game five. Miami jumped ahead early, but the Tide crawled back behind the superb serving by Brigitte Slack and true freshman Jennifer Weber. Alabama recovered from an 11-6 deficit to pull even at 14 apiece. A Bridget Fuentez kill gave the Tide a 15-14 advantage, but it fell apart for Alabama after that.
A hitting error gave the Canes the ball back with a 15-15 tie and Miami jumped at the opportunity. A Tide error and a Hurricane kill ended Alabama’s hopes and handed the Tide its first loss of the season.
“Again, it was impressive to me to see us make that kind of a comeback in game five,” Green said. “We were down four or five points, but we fought right back at the end. I was proud of our team for that.”
The night didn’t end without some electrifying play by Hudson. The Hueytown native pounded a career high 24 kills while hitting .340 for the match. She tallied 50 attack attempts, setting another career high and chipped in on the defensive side with six digs on the evening.
“Crystal is handling a different role too in trying to become a six-rotation player,” Green said. “She was very dominant at the net tonight offensively and is a tremendous athlete that makes plays. We got the ball to her as much as we could.”
Bridget Fuentez, a returning second team All-SEC performer, also had a superb season opener. Fuentez smashed 19 kills on 53 attempts and added eight digs on defense.
Webster, a redshirt freshman from Baltimore, Md., had an impressive debut in front of the home crowd, as she established career bests with 10 kills and two block assists.
Slack, the Tide’s junior setter, who already stands in fourth-place all-time in the Alabama career assist charts, finished one assist shy of her career best by racking up 63 assists on the night. Slack added seven digs and four block assists on the defensive side of the net.
Libero Amy Pauly was another Tide player who had a career performance. Pauly dug out 24 balls, setting a career best while leading all players in the match.
In the end though, the Tide just made too many mistakes against an opportunistic Miami club. Alabama had 33 attack errors against Miami’s 19, and the Tide committed 20 costly service errors to the Canes’ 10.
Alabama will look to rebound in its second game of the Academy Sports Invitational tomorrow afternoon when the Tide faces instate rival Alabama A&M. The Tide, currently on a 27-match winning streak against opponents from within the state, will take on the Bulldogs at 1:30 p.m. A&M lost its first match of the Friday evening session to Kansas in a 3-0 decision.
The Tide will face Kansas in the finale of the Academy Sports Invitational at 7 p.m. on Saturday. Admission to all matches in the CAVE is free throughout the weekend.