BALTIMORE-The North Carolina A&T volleyball team won two more sets and saw some strong individual performances in their first two matches in the Coppin State Invitational, but finished Friday with a pair of tough losses in four sets against Chicago State and Coppin state.
"There was a lot of emotional and physical toll for our players today with losing three sets by two points. That's an emotional challenge that we're going to have to overcome," said head coach Hal Clifton. "We won two sets by two points, and it's that one set that we get clobbered that throws the whole match for us."
In the first match against Chicago State defeated A&T 23-25, 25-14, 25-20, 25-23. Later in the day, Coppin State was victorious 25-23, 25-13, 23-25, 26-24.
"I feel comfortable that we're getting people to attack, we're just making some unforced errors at critical times, that's slowing our momentum and giving other teams the opportunity to take advantage of that," Clifton said. "We're inconsistent in lots of facets of the game right now, and each one affects the other. We have to get better in making our own plays."
Against Chicago State, freshman Aleena McDaniel posted a team-best 15 kills. Freshman Brooke Stamnes recorded a double-double with 12 kills and 11 digs. It's the first double-double by an A&T player since Jeana Daniels had 11 kills and 11 digs on Aug. 28, 2010 against UNC Wilmington. Freshman Ashley Johnson recorded 29 digs.
"[Brooke] missed a double-double by a kill last week, and Aleena barely missed a double-double, so we're getting production out of that position, both in digs and in kills," Clifton said.
Sophomore Aprill McRae ended the match against Coppin State with 15 kills in 23 attempts for a .652 hitting percentage. Junior Chelsea Fox also set a new career best with 40 assists in the contest as well.
Clifton was impressed with McRae's performance, noting that it was a feat that hasn't been accomplished in a long time by the Aggies. He was also pleased with senior Andrea Evan's hitting percentage in the game as well.
In set one against Chicago State, A&T went on a 7-0 run to tie the set at 12 following their second timeout. Later, an attack error by Alyssa Podwell gave the Aggies their first lead of the set at 15-14. After several ties, McDaniel's kill gave A&T a 24-23 lead. A service ace by Stames gave the Aggies the set win.
Over the next two sets, A&T fell behind early as the Cougars took a 2-1 lead in the match. A&T tried to keep the match going by tying the fourth set at 21 with block assists by McRae and Te'Borah Hawkins-Hollingsworth. The Cougars collected the next two points to retake the lead. The Aggies pulled within one at 24-23 with a kill and service ace by Stamnes. But the Cougars won 25-23 on an A&T attack error.
In the second match of the day, A&T played three incredibly close sets against Coppin State. A McDaniel kill put the Aggies ahead, but the Eagles collected three points to take a 24-22 lead in the first set. A kill by Stamnes brought the Aggies within one, but Coppin State won the set point.
Behind a .629 hitting percentage, Coppin State won the second set easily. But in the third set, A&T overcame a 14-9 deficit to tie the set at 21 on a Daniels kill and an ace by Chelsea Fox. The Aggies lead increased to three on consecutive kills by Daniels and an attack error by CSU. After withstanding a two-point rally, A&T used a timeout to set up a kill by McRae to earn the set victory.
A&T moved into the fourth set, and used kills by Stamnes and McRae to tie the set at 21. But CSU collected two kills to regain the lead. After an Eagle service error, McRae collected another kill to knot the score at 23. The Aggies came to within one point of tying the match at 2 as CSU's Ariel Richard saw her attack go out of bounds.
Richard, however, made up for her mistake with consecutive kills to give the Eagles a 25-24 advantage. The match ended on a McDaniel attack error.
"I think we did improve on some of the mental aspects of the game, so that was good. Being able to make game-time adjustments and stick with them; that's an improvement," Clifton said.
The Aggies will take on Youngstown State at 10 a.m. and Bryant at 2 p.m. on Saturday to wrap up the tournament.
Match Notes: Aleena McDaniel had a season-high in kills with 15...McRae's .652 hitting percentage against Coppin State was the second-highest percentage in a single match since 2002, and just the sixth time that an A&T player has hit over .600 since 2002...Current assistant coach Arlene Mitchell posted a .667 percentage on Sept. 13, 2003...The last time an A&T player recorded a hitting percentage over .600 was when Tatiana Cooper hit .619 on Sept. 3, 2010.