Erica Whiteaker breaks program record for digs again, Lady Railsplitters fall in five at Tusculum

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. - Junior libero Erica Whiteaker became just the third player in South Atlantic Conference history to surpass 50 digs in a match, but the Lady Railsplitters (4-1, 1-1 SAC) suffered their first loss of the season with a grueling five-set defeat at the hands of the Tusculum Pioneers (3-3, 1-1 SAC) on Tuesday night at Pioneer Arena. Lincoln Memorial fell by scores of 19-25, 25-19, 22-25, 25-19 and 13-15.

Just five days after breaking her own program record for digs with 47 in a five-set win at Mars Hill, Whiteaker reset that mark once again by piling up 51 digs to lead the Lincoln Memorial defensive unit. Whiteaker fell just seven digs away from tying the SAC record and has now combined for 98 digs in her past two appearances.

Despite that performance, Whiteaker's defensive brilliance was overshadowed by Tusculum's Cassie Born, who racked up 26 kills on a .266 attack percentage to go along with 26 digs for a monster double-double. Born was responsible for nearly half of the Pioneers' 67 kills, while Laryssa Welch and Sabrina Schleuger added 10 apiece. Behind Born, Tusculum finished with a 67-53 advantage in terms of total kills.

Kiera Holland led the Lady Railsplitters with 15 kills, but committed nine of the team's 23 attack errors. Rylee Storms added 12 kills and a team-high eight block assists, while Lindsey Nartker amassed eight kills and 14 digs after sitting out the first set. Danielle Ged chipped in seven digs and six block assists.

Lincoln Memorial outhit the Pioneers in terms of efficiency, recording a .161 attack percentage compared to a .143 mark for Tusculum. However, the Lady Railsplitters were unable to overcome the 14-kill difference.

Neither team established a lead larger than two points in the early going of the first set. However, the Pioneers won seven of eight rallies to assume a 17-11 lead. The Lady Railsplitters trimmed the deficit to four on five different occasions after that, but kills from Schleuger and Mariah Lewis capped the 25-19 win for the Pioneers.

After hitting just .129 and allowing a .229 clip in the opening set, the Lady Railsplitters flipped the narrative in set two by producing 17 kills on a sizzling .265 mark while forcing Tusculum into a .094 hitting percentage. Lincoln Memorial took control early, racing out to a 6-1 lead before eventually expanding its cushion to 20-12 on a kill from Nartker. Tusculum trimmed some off the lead late, but a kill from Storms evened the match at 1-1.

Unlike the first two sets, the third frame was a back-and-forth affair throughout. The Lady Railsplitters took a 4-1 lead early on three Tusculum attack errors and an ace from Holland, but the Pioneers rallied to take an 11-8 lead on a kill by Born. Tusculum later extended its lead to 15-10 on an ace by Born, and the Pioneers would maintain a five-point cushion later in the set at 19-14. However, the Lady Railsplitters controlled the next passage of play, fighting all the way back to even the score at 22-22 on a block by Storms and Ged. It was Tusculum that made the final run, though, winning the last three rallies on two kills by Welch and another by Born to clinch the 25-22 victory.

Tusculum held an 11-9 lead early in the fourth set, but the Lady Railsplitters took control of the frame with a 7-1 run aided by four consecutive Pioneer attack errors. Lincoln Memorial maintained a five-point lead at 20-15 on a kill by Alicia Kessler, but Tusculum won three straight points to close the gap to two. However, the Lady Railsplitters forced a decisive fifth set by closing on a 5-1 run capped by two Tusculum attack errors.

The Lady Railsplitters were unable to carry that momentum into the fifth set, hitting just .077 with seven kills. On the other side, Tusculum racked up nine kills on a .259 clip. The Pioneers were leading 12-9 until two attack errors and a kill by Storms drew the set even at 12-12. However, Tusculum won three of the last four rallies to clinch the match.

Lincoln Memorial is back in action on Friday night, traveling to Hartsville, S.C. for a SAC contest against the Coker Cobras beginning at 7 p.m.