Blinn volleyball opens title defense with pair of sweeps

TYLER, Texas – The Blinn College volleyball team began its national title defense here Friday afternoon with a pair of victories at the Dana Hatch Invite hosted by Tyler Junior College.

Blinn, fresh off its second national championship in November, opened its 2012 campaign with a pair of sweeps, defeating Victoria College 25-12, 25-10, 25-19 before topping Trinity Valley Community College 25-22, 25-21, 25-19.

The Buccaneers have now won 41 consecutive matches dating back to 2010, including 38 victories on their way to last season's national title, and have not lost a regular-season match since Sept. 18, 2010, a stretch of 49 consecutive wins.

Friday's action marked the Buccaneers' first matches under new head coach Erin Mellinger, who came to Blinn from the College of Southern Idaho, where she helped the team win the 2009 national championship as an assistant coach. She replaced David Rehr, who took the head coaching job at Division I Arkansas State University after nine seasons at Blinn.

"It feels good," Mellinger said of her first victory with the Buccaneers. "I'm proud of them. It gives us a good base for where we need to go and what we need to do."

Sophomore outside hitter Ksenia Sukhareva, one of three players returning from last season's national championship, led the Buccaneers with 12 kills against Victoria, while freshman outside hitter Bruna Evangelista added nine kills and freshman setter Crystal Young dished out a team-high 38 assists.

Sukhareva led the Buccaneers against Trinity Valley as well, posting 15 kills to go along with 11 digs. Evangelista finished with 13 kills while hitting .722 on the night, and freshman libero Tori Estrada recorded a team-high 14 assists.

"They did a very, very good job," Mellinger said. "I'm excited about where we can go. We're doing some really good things and it's only going to get better."

Blinn will continue tournament play Saturday with a noon match against Barton Community College and a 2 p.m. match with Tyler.

The Buccaneers will make their home debut in Brenham on Aug. 31 when they host the Labor Day Classic. Blinn faces Western Texas at 1 p.m. and Temple at 7 p.m. on Aug. 31, then faces Labette at 1 p.m. and Panola at 7 p.m. on Sept. 1.

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