Julia DiPaola, Nina Billotto, Olivia Baumhoer

Fairmont State's Julia DiPaola puts the ball over the net to West Liberty's Nina Billotto (6) and Olivia Baumhoer (3).

FAIRMONT — As Fairmont State volleyball players mingled around the court following a Saturday afternoon home match with Mountain East Conference (MEC) North rival West Liberty at Joe Retton Arena, the gym echoed with chatter and laughter. It was clear spirits were high amongst the team.

The Falcons had reason to be excited as they scored their first in-conference victory of the season, downing the Hilltoppers 3-1 (25-22, 22-25, 25-21, 25-17) in a high-energy performance. The win was received by head coach Courtney Materazzi as validation of a hard-working group’s potential after opening the season with what she called a “tough slate” which included top-25 MEC foe Wheeling and an Ashland team which received multiple votes in the latest AVCA poll.

“It was a really great win for us. We obviously needed it - we didn’t have a conference win under our belt yet, and they’re a really good team - this was huge,” said Fairmont outside hitter Julia Dipaola.

“It’s an awesome feeling. We came out a bit slow today and that’s been an issue for us this season, so to come back from a deficit to get the first conference win shows so much growth for our team,” added redshirt junior, Rebecca Feeney.

The Falcons (7-9, 1-3) trailed by double-digits in the first set but would rally strong to retake the lead late and secure a three-point victory. They were unable to fend off the Hilltoppers (8-9, 1-2) in the second set but would keep their heads high and regain the momentum, which they would ride to a four-set victory.

“Our grit was so much better, and you could see that in set one when they came back from that huge deficit we had. We’ve been asking for that refusal to lose and they showed that,” Materazzi said.

The Falcons would dominate in all facets of play, outdoing the Hilltoppers in kills, assists, aces, digs, and blocks. Fairmont displayed a tenacious mentality throughout the afternoon, exemplified hard-nosed play of Dipaola who paced her team with 18 kills - she also finished third on the team with 16 digs and second with four blocks.

“Coming off a loss yesterday, intensity was something we struggled with. I had the help of my teammates telling me we’re going to take as much space but just dive in that seam and get the ball up - we’ll help you from there,” Dipaola said.

“Just taking care of the ball in tough situations, she really excelled there. She put the team on her back and she was accountable for every element of her game. She really focused on getting her job done and she had an incredible match,” Materazzi added.

Other major contributors for Fairmont included Feeney with eight blocks and five kills, Kelsey Moeller with 22 assists and 22 digs, Bryce Knapp with 24 digs and 15 assists, They next take the court Tuesday at 7 p.m. as they travel to MEC North opponent Frostburg State.

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