University of Tennessee-Martin volleyball coach Chris Rushing was happy enough after his Skyhawks picked up a rare win over perennial Ohio Valley Conference power Southeast Missouri State University last month.
Imagine, then, the elation Rushing felt Friday night after the Skyhawks made it two in a row over the Otahkians with a 30-28, 30-20, 20-30, 30-28 victory at Houck Field House.
"I was real pleased beating them the first time because it was our first win over them since we've been a Division I program," said Rushing. "This is just a great win. We'll take beating SEMO any time because I have so much respect for their program and what they've done."
What Southeast has done is win eight of 10 OVC regular-season championships since joining the league. And in the previous two years, the Otahkians lost just one conference match combined in rolling to a pair of titles.
But the youthful Otahkians, while still very competitive in the conference, are certainly not romping through the opposition like in recent seasons. Friday's setback dropped Southeast, which has just one senior, to 10-9 overall and a fourth-place 6-3 in the OVC.
Meanwhile, the Skyhawks continue to rise in OVC volleyball circles. Last year they posted their best-ever finish since joining the league in 1992 by placing second. And they were the preseason pick to win the title this year. UTM improved to 17-6 overall and a second-place 8-2 in the OVC with its ninth straight victory.
And the Skyhawks, like the Otahkians, are also extremely young as they have no seniors. UTM trails 7-1 Eastern Illinois by percentage points in the OVC standings.
Friday night, UTM started strong before Southeast was able to make things interesting. The Otahkians, after winning the third game, rallied from a 27-19 deficit in the fourth game to pull into a 28-28 tie. But the Skyhawks scored the final two match -- on kills by Jamie Fitzwater and Lindsey Stock -- to close things out.
"The first two games, I was just disappointed in our performance and lack of effort," said Southeast coach Cindy Gannon. "I thought we picked it up in the last two games.
"Tennessee-Martin has a good team, but I'm tired of saying we're young. We have to overcome our youth. I still think we can have a good volleyball team. And the OVC race is far from over. We're still in the thick of things."
Fitzwater and Rachel Ahlers led UTM in kills with 14 each. Heather Kea had 13. Lindsey Vicknair recorded 51 assists.
For Southeast, Jessica Haupt had 14 kills while Bobbi Carlile had 13. Also in double figures were Emily Johnson with 11 and Emily Scannell with 10.
Suzanne Gundlach and Scannell had 11 and 10 digs, respectively. Scannell recorded 42 assists. Emily Wahlman led the way in blocks with eight.
The Otahkians will host Murray State at 7 o'clock tonight.