Charlotte, NC - The Johnson & Wales Lady Wildcats (14-7) (Ranked 3rd in the USCAA Coaches Poll) got off to a slow start Thursday night, quickly falling behind the Bruins of Piedmont International University two games to none. JWU would rally from that deep hole to win an exciting contest, 3-2.
Piedmont International jumped out to a 7-4 lead in game one behind scrappy defensive play. Moriah Hughes' big kill sparked a 3-0 JWU run that tied the score. Much of the middle portion of the game was marred by sloppy play from both teams. The Bruins eventually pulled ahead by four at 19-15. Following a timeout by Coach Callie Phillips, the Lady Wildcats were able to claw their way back into the game, tying the score at 23. It wouldn't be enough as Piedmont International won 3 of the final 4 points of the game to take the 26-24 win.
The Bruins once again took command early in game 2, jumping out to an 6-3 lead. JWU rallied to tie the score at 6 behind a service ace from Emily Kirchner. Piedmont International immediately scored 3 points to re-establish command of the game. They would stretch the lead to as much as six points at 19-13, forcing an unhappy Coach Phillips to call timeout. The Lady Wildcats would respond, trimming the lead to 4 at 22-18, but the Bruins were too much and went on to win the second game 25-20.
Game three was a back and forth affair that the Lady Wildcats had to have if they held out any hope of winning the match. The match was so close that neither team led by more than two points until Piedmont International took a 3 point lead at 24-21. Facing match point, the JWU front line, led by Lauren Cordts and Kristen Hall blocked the Bruins' Emily Buffaloe on four consecutive plays to put the Lady Wildcats ahead 25-24. A Hall kill on the next serve provided the final point in a 26-24 come from behind thriller.
Game four saw JWU jump out to a lead for the first time in the match. An 8-0 run keyed by great offense from the front line of Moriah Hughes, Kaitlin Kuntz, and Madelyn Leonard gave the Lady Wildcats a huge 13-4 lead. The JWU defense then did it's job as they prevented Piedmont International from cutting into the lead. The Lady Wildcats would cruise home with a 25-13 win.
That set the stage for the decisive game five. Piedmont International quickly put JWU in a 3-0 hole, but the Lady Wildcats responded with 7 consecutive points of their own to go up 7-3. It was 8-4 at the changeover before the Bruins ran off 4 straight points to tie the score. The front line once again stepped up and denied several Piedmont International attacks, while putting away their own chances to give JWU a 12-8 lead. Tia Luneke served the final 3 points of the match to complete the comeback, 15-8.
The win clinches the first winning season in Johnson & Wales history, and moves the Lady Wildcats seven games over .500 for the second time this season. They hit the road for a tri-match in Raleigh on Friday against Lenoir Community College and homestanding Wake Tech.