BIRMINGHAM, Ala.— Junior All-Southern Conference second team selection Natalie Braun hit .444 with 20 kills and 13 digs as the Furman volleyball team swept Western Carolina 3-0 (25-18, 25-18, 25-23) Saturday afternoon in the first round of the SoCon Championship at the Pete Hanna Center on the campus of Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. With the win, the Paladins (21-8, 13-3 SoCon) advance to Sunday's semifinal round, where they will face host Samford at 5:30 p.m.
Furman rolled to a 19-9 lead in the opening set before the Catamounts notched four-straight points to cut into the deficit. The Paladins continued to hold a seven-point lead at 23-16, but Western Carolina reeled off three-consecutive points to come within four points. Braun recorded back-to-back kills to seal the 25-19 victory for Furman.
The teams battled through several ties early in the second set and remained deadlocked at 10 before the Paladins went on a 6-2 run to take a 16-12 lead and gain control of the set. Furman held the Catamounts to a .093 hitting percentage in the second set, taking a 25-18 win for a 2-0 set lead at the break.
The Paladins jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead in the third set, but the Catamounts sliced the deficit to two at 12-10. Furman stretched the advantage to five at 15-10 and maintained a five-point lead with match point at 24-19 before Western Carolina put together a 4-0 run, slashing the Paladin lead to 24-23. A final kill from Braun gave Furman the match, 25-23.
Senior Alexis Shaffer hit .308 with ten kills, while fellow senior Carolyn Nicoletti led the Paladins with 14 digs. Senior Kelly Kirby posted a team-high 29 assists and added 13 digs, and junior Chandler Ambrester also added 13 digs in the Paladin effort.
Western Carolina (13-20, 8-8 SoCon) was led by Morgan Cochran, who notched 16 digs. Caitlin Piechota recorded a team-high nine kills and added 15 digs, while Brittany Lysik dished out 29 assists.