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ASU volleyball rallies to beat Clark Atlanta in five-set thriller

Albany State seniors Ashley Johnson, left, and Jillian Anderson go up for a block during Thursday’s game against Clark Atlanta. The Lady Rams fought back from a 2-0 deficit to win in five sets. (Staff photo: John Millikan)

Albany State seniors Ashley Johnson, left, and Jillian Anderson go up for a block during Thursday’s game against Clark Atlanta. The Lady Rams fought back from a 2-0 deficit to win in five sets. (Staff photo: John Millikan)

ALBANY — Albany State’s Kristen Randolph was terrified as she watched her team’s incredible comeback crumble before her eyes Thursday night.

In a rematch of last year’s SIAC championship volleyball game, Albany State stormed back from a 2-0 deficit to visiting Clark Atlanta to force a fifth and deciding set, but the Lady Rams found themselves trailing 12-8 in the final set.

That’s about the time the terror came over Randolph.

“I was very scared,” Randolph said. “There was fear all in my eyes.”

Here’s a tip for the rest of ASU’s opponents this season — don’t scare Kristen Randolph.

The freshman from Knoxville, Tenn., proceeded to hammer three kills in a span of five points to lead the Lady Rams to a thrilling 15-13 victory in the fifth set and a 3-2 win against a Clark Atlanta team that beat ASU by that same score in last year’s title game.

“This game was important for the older girls who were here last year and got beat by Clark,” Randolph said. “I know the emotions from last year came back (Thursday night). Before the game everybody wanted to play with intensity and go out and beat Clark because of last year.”

Randolph finished with a team-high 15 kills, but none were more important than the three she had in the final moments of the game.

“She got the job done for us (Thursday),” ASU coach Robert Skinner said. “A lot of them played good on the front row, but she rose to the occasion. She had some huge (kills).”

Jillian Anderson (11 kills), Ashley Johnson (9) and Jennifer Evans (6) also had good performances at the net, while Kaliah Carter led ASU with 29 digs and Amanda Cook had 40 assists.

The Lady Rams (7-6, 6-1 SIAC) are now over .500 for the first time this season and have won seven of their last eight games.

In Thursday’s opening set, ASU jumped ahead early and led for the entire set until Clark snagged a 21-20 advantage. The teams traded the lead back and forth the rest of the way and each had set points, but it was Clark that capitalized and won, 27-25. The Lady Panthers never trailed in the second set and cruised to a 25-20 win, but ASU stormed back in the third and fourth sets for 25-16 and 25-18 wins to force set No. 5.

“That was fun,” Skinner said. “They played hard and didn’t quit playing. They played like they really wanted to win.”

ASU took a 6-5 lead in the fifth, but Clark answered with six straight points to claim an 11-6 advantage. But then kills by Anderson, Cook, Johnson and Randolph put the Lady Rams in front 14-13, and a kill from Cook clinched the game.

The Lady Rams play again Saturday at Miles at 1 p.m.