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By: Ryan Hartwig (@RyanHartwig)
GreenBayPhoenix.com

GREEN BAY, Wis. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) - Using a large, energized home crowd of nearly 500 fans to its advantage, the Green Bay volleyball team made a valiant comeback attempt Friday night in its Horizon League opener against Cleveland State, but the Phoenix (7-6, 0-1) ultimately came up short, falling 3-1 to the Vikings (9-5, 1-0) at the Kress Center.

Green Bay started slow, falling 25-19 in each of the first two sets, but rebounded to take set three 25-18 before being edged 31-29 in an exciting, back-and-forth fourth set.

The Phoenix trailed 14-7 midway through the fourth, but a 4-0 run followed shortly by a 5-0 spurt evened the score at 18-18. A Leah Van Zeeland (Kaukauna, Wis.) kill made it 20-18 Phoenix, and a kill by Lyndsay Zabkowicz (Oak Creek, Wis.) gave the home team a 24-23 advantage and the first of four set point opportunities. The Phoenix was unable to grab the set-clinching point in any of its four tries, and the Vikings eventually recorded back-to-back points to secure the 31-29 victory and snap Green Bay's four-match winning streak.

"I was proud of the direction the match went after the way we played in the first two sets, because it could have been a sweep," Phoenix head coach Debbie Kirch said. "But we don't want to continue coming out of matches saying we finished strong. It has got to be there from the start."

The Vikings, picked second the league's preseason poll, owned the Phoenix in hitting percentage the first two sets, highlighted by their .382-.162 advantage in the opener. Green Bay turned the tables in set three, however, making adjustments in the blocking game and out-hitting Cleveland State .310 to .119. The Phoenix opened up a 20-11 lead in the third and ultimately won 25-18, cutting the CSU lead to 2-1 and getting the crowd back in the match.

"We've had large crowds before, but I think what was exciting was the knowledgeable fan base that was just really getting into the match," Kirch said. "I know what a win tonight would have done for that fan base, but I hope they saw what this team is capable of in those last two sets and that they keep coming back because it was an awesome atmosphere."

The Vikings finished with a .194 to .143 edge in hitting percentage, and out-did the Phoenix in kills (58-52), assists (51-48) and blocks (13-7). Van Zeeland paced Green Bay with a team-high 15 kills, while CSU's Kara Koch led all players with 19.

Senior libero Brittany Groth (Oak Creek, Wis.) registered a match-high 31 digs, giving her 1,462 for her career and moving her into third place on Green Bay's all-time list ahead of Phoenix Hall of Famer Janelle Tomlinson (1,435, 2000-03). Groth entered the match ranked seventh in the NCAA in digs per set, averaging 5.78.

The Phoenix looks to bounce back from the loss on Saturday when it continues its conference schedule against Youngstown State at 4 p.m. at the Kress Center.

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