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Tigers hope to gain momentum during home stand

<p>Memphis junior middle blocker Summer Morgan had 13 kills and eight blocks in the Tigers 3-1 win over UConn. &nbsp;</p>
Memphis junior middle blocker Summer Morgan had 13 kills and eight blocks in the Tigers 3-1 win over UConn.  

Tiger volleyball will return to action this week for two crucial home matchups against American Athletic Conference foes USF and UCF.

Memphis volleyball coach April Jauregui said they must take advantage of the opportunity this weekend.

“It is extremely important to protect our home court,” she said. “This weekend is a key weekend for us in several ways. We play two teams we are currently tied within the standings. We need a big push this weekend.”

The Tigers enter the weekend with an 11-6 record (2-2, AAC), coming off of a 3-1 win over UConn.

Memphis had multiple standouts against the Huskies, being led by career-high performances from junior right side McKenzie Hayes (18 kills and 5 blocks) and junior middle blocker Sumer Morgan (13 kills and 8 blocks).

Senior libero Lindsey Purvis led the Tigers with 26 digs in the win; only three shy of her career dig mark. Senior setter Veronica Zimmerman also had a impressive match adding 42 assists.

Although the Tigers will rely heavily on these standouts this week as they try to move above .500 in conference play, Jauregui said she expects every player on her team to contribute.

“We have a true team system,” she said. “So to be honest we need every player to contribute in their role for us to have success. That has been the what has helped us all season.”

First, the Tigers will meet the USF Bulls Friday. The Bulls have struggled so far this season. They enter the game with a 5-11 record (2-2, AAC), coming off an impressive comeback victory against Tulane. The Bulls fell behind early by two sets (19-25, 19-25), before rallying to win the next three (25-21, 25-16, 15-11).

Junior outside hitter Dakota Hampton, who has racked up a team-high 143 kills on the year, led the Bulls to victory over Tulane with a career-high 18 kills and 10 digs.

Even though USF has struggled so far this season, the matchup will be no cakewalk for the Tigers. The Bulls rank third in the conference in digs at 16.04 digs per set. Wylie Devlin has come up big this season for the Bulls, averaging over 4 digs per set, a mark good enough for eighth best in the conference. Devlin has racked up 232 total digs on the year, including a 15-dig performance in their win over Tulane.

The Tigers will have no time to rest as they return to action Sunday to face the UCF Knights.

The Knights, who were selected as the pre-season favorites to win the American Athletic Conference, travel to Memphis with an 8-8 record (2-2, AAC). In their most recent matchup, UCF fell 3-2 (25-18, 19-25, 25-17, 21-25, 12-15) to the Houston Cougars, even though the knights outperformed Houston in almost every statistical category.

Outside hitter Maddie Haggerty, a redshirt freshman, led the way for the knights with a career-high 17 kills, 12 digs and 3 aces. Junior outside hitter Jale Hervey added 16 kills as well.

UCF has excelled in multiple facets of the game this year, ranking third in the conference in hitting percentage (.236), fifth in opponent hitting percentage (.191), third in assists (12.84 per set) and third in kills (13.69 per set).

The Knights’ numbers are not only impressive collectively, but their individual leaders are among the best in the conference as well.

Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Taylor Wickey ranks third in the conference in hitting percentage (.420), Hervey ranks fourth in the conference in kills with 3.50 per set, and freshman setter Miranda Watkins is having a fantastic season averaging seven assists per set (ninth best in the conference) and .50 service aces per set (second best in the conference).

With the Knights and Bulls struggling so far this season Memphis will need to capitalize on this opportunity to gain momentum in the conference, before they begin a tough four-game road stretch.

Jauregui said consistency is what her team will need to focus on most during this key home stand.

“Every week we have improved in some area,” she said. “What we need most is consistency of play. We cannot rely on opponents mistakes, we have to create our own opportunities.”

Memphis and USF will take the court 7 p.m. Friday at the Elma Roane Fieldhouse, before the Tigers play host to UCF 1 p.m. Sunday.

Jauregui said to stay competitive in the conference; her team must come up big this weekend.

“The biggest part of this weekend will be that separation on position in the conference,” she said. “If we want to stay at the top of the conference we need to show up this weekend. I think we match up well with these teams.”

Memphis junior middle blocker Summer Morgan had 13 kills and eight blocks in the Tigers 3-1 win over UConn.  

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