BALTIMORE-The North Carolina A&T volleyball team was one set shy of winning its first match of the season. That is until something happened with the Aggies' ability to receive serves. Bryant University posted 21 service aces to defeat the Aggies 3-2 (17-25, 25-23, 21-25, 25-11, 15-8) during final day of the Coppin State Invitational played at Physical Education Complex on Saturday.
Earlier in the day, Youngstown State beat A&T in three sets, 25-10, 25-14, 25-15.
"I thought overall we played fairly decent, we had too many unforced errors in a couple different categories. By now I think that's what's separating us from winning matches at this time," said head coach Hal Clifton. "We've just got to keep raising the bar and staying with it and keep pushing through."
Senior Andrea Evans had an outstanding weekend after collecting 23 kills, with a .315 hitting percentage, six service aces, five digs and 19 blocks. She averaged 1.44 kills per set and 1.19 blocks per set in the invitational.
"Andrea attacked and blocked very well this weekend, which is exactly what we were hoping to get out of her," Clifton said.
Freshman Brooke Stamnes totaled a team-best 36 kills and a team-best nine aces during the invite. Sophomore Aprill McRae had the best hitting percentage, recording a .333 percentage with 28 kills.
"[Brooke] struggled a little bit with her hitting efficiency, but she's exciting, she hits hard and 0.56 service aces and averaging two digs a match is good," Clifton said.
Stamnes led the Aggies with six kills in the Saturday morning loss to Youngstown State.
The Aggies (0-8) played in their first five-set match since Oct. 1, 2010 during the afternoon session. Clifton turned to freshman setter Ali Way throughout the entire match and she responded with 28 assists. Stamnes finished with 10 kills, and Evans did not make an attack error in 13 attempts, as she finished with five kills, five service aces (including three straight) and six block assists.
"Youngstown had a number of different attackers and they were a very well balanced offense," Clifton said. "They kept us on the defensive side way too much. Against Byrant, I felt like we got in a lot more rhythm attacking early on, and we were able to key on a couple of their hitters," Clifton said.
Freshman Te'Borah Hawkins-Hollingsworth, who patrolled the middle for most of the Bryant match, and Stamnes opened the set with block assists. The Aggies rhythm eventually resulted in an early 11-6 lead. Bryant called a timeout, but A&T emerged from the break adding to their advantage. A service ace by freshman Aleena McDaniel put the Aggies ahead 20-14. Hawkins-Hollingsworth tipped it for another kill to put the Aggies up by seven. Stamnes then collected a service ace to secure the 25-17 victory.
In the second set, an attack error pulled the Aggies to within one at 24-23. But McDaniel hit the ball into the net on an attack attempt, which tied the set at 1.
Stamnes gave the Aggies a 21-17 in the third set with consecutive kills. A&T's lead increased to as many as five, 24-19, with block assists by McRae and Evans. Bryant scored the next two points before a kill by McDaniel gave the Aggies their second set win of the match, marking the first time the Aggies have won two sets in a match this season.
In the fourth set, Bryant recorded a .417 hitting percentage to force a decisive final set. In the fifth set, one-third of Bryant's points came from aces as the team recorded five to complete the rally.
"We've made six set wins already, which is two less than our total last year. So we've already started creeping up towards some of our goals," Clifton said. "To go five sets and then to play two really close four-set matches with a number of sets being decided by two points, means that we're getting close to maybe getting over the top and start feeling like we can win. Even in those other four-set matches, a point here or a point there, and instead of losing in four, we're winning in four. We're that close."
The Aggies will next hit the court Sept. 7-8 as they co-host the Spartan-Aggie Invitational with UNC Greensboro. The Aggies will take on American on Sept. 7 at 7 p.m., before facing UNC Greensboro at UNCG's Fleming Gymnasium at 11 a.m., on Sept. 8. A&T concludes the shared invitational with a home match against UNC Asheville at 4 p.m., on Sept. 8.