If Wednesday night was any indication, the instant rivalry between EMU and Randolph-Macon in men's volleyball is all that it's cracked up to be. And more.
The Royals recovered from a setback in the third set to blow past R-MC in the fourth, 25-17, clinching a 3-1 win in the first-ever meeting between the two teams. EMU improved to 4-5 in the Continental Volleyball Conference, jumping ahead of the Yellow Jackets at 3-5.
The two schools are regular opponents in their other sports, which play in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. But this was the first time they met in men's volleyball. Randolph-Macon is in their inaugural season and joined the CVC, a men's volleyball-only league, last summer. Eastern Mennonite is in its 21st year as a program.
The rivalry, however, was instantaneous for the two teams, stretching beyond their association from the ODAC. Both rosters are well stocked with players brought up in the Richmond Volleyball Club, and the coaches, Danielle Lickey from EMU and Jared Horrigan from R-MC, are also friends off the court.
On the court, the intensity was high and only aided by a Rowdy Royal crowd in Yoder Arena.
The opponents sparred in the first set, with each landing short runs. EMU had the most important run, scoring four straight to build set point at 24-20. The visitors fought off three points before Sean Wright (Glen Allen, Va./Deep Run) landed the winner, 25-23.
The second set was similar to the first, with the Royals leading most of the way and holding on for a 25-21 final.
But Randolph-Macon made a quick sting in the third, scoring the first three points and building a 7-2 edge. The Royals would get no closer than four points after that, with R-MC ending on an 8-2 streak win stay alive, 25-15.
The men responded in the fourth set, hitting .387 and taking over early. The Yellow Jackets used a 6-1 run to sneak ahead 10-9. EMU scored three straight to get back in front before rattling off the final seven points to win going away, 25-17.
Eastern Mennonite simply out-hit Randolph-Macon, .179 to .113.
Freshman Jacob Durren (Gloucester, Va./Gloucester) led the men out of the middle with a career high 13 kills. His previous high had been eight. Hunter Taylor (Ashland, Va./Patrick Henry) added 12 kills while Travis Abele (Mechanicsville, Va./Lee-Davis) had eight. The trio combined for 14 kills in the fourth set. Wright came in with seven for the match.
Wyatt Bollinger (Harrisonburg, Va./Eastern Mennonite) put up 24 assists, while Abele added 13 assists, 10 digs and four aces. Wright had 11 digs, but the star of the back row was libero Austin Tomlin (Greenville, Va./Riverheads) who shattered his career high with 17 digs.
R.J. Ocampo (Virginia Beach, Va./First Colonial) had three blocks.
Lee Olenyik, one of R-MC's four Richmond-area players, led his team with 15 kills.
EMU gets another break in their schedule before their final matches of the regular season. They host No. 3 Kean next Friday, March 29, followed by Rutgers-Newark the next day. That match against the Scarlet Raiders is also Senior Recognition for the men.