They're All Grown Up
They’re Back: Jade Boone (6-0 RS/MH So.), Jeana Daniels (5-10 MH R-Sr., did not play in 2013), T'keyah Davis (5-4 DS So.), Te'Borah Hawkins-Hollingsworth (6-0 MH Jr.), Ashley Johnson (5-6 LIB Jr.), Jasmine Jones (5-5 DS Jr.), Liz Martino (5-7 S So.), Aleena McDaniel (5-10 RS/MH Jr.), Jillian Nobles (6-0 MH So.), Brooke Stamnes (5-9 OH Jr.)
Key Losses: Chelsea Fox (5-10 RS/S)
Strengths: The Aggies have six juniors on the roster who have earned playing time from day one they stepped on A&T’s campus.
Weakness: The Aggies do not have an experienced setter to back up sophomore Liz Martino.
Expectations: The Aggies are picked to finish second in the MEAC southern division. When head coach Hal Clifton took over the program four years ago he had a total of six players, which barely gave him enough to field a team. Today he has enough bodies to hold full scrimmages in practice. If the Aggies can build enough momentum during their non-conference season and stay healthy, winning a MEAC southern title is not out of the question. Who knows what can happen from there?
Preview: Last season marked a year of resurgence for the North Carolina A&T volleyball program. But now that 2013 is in the books, the Aggies have their sights set on writing a new chapter.
The Aggies capped off their 2013 season by making their first appearance to the MEAC tournament since 2007, along with posting the most wins in conference games since that same season. Although it was a huge accomplishment for a maturing program, A&T is not wasting any time thinking about last season. As they continue to grow, the Aggies are focused on new goals, new expectations, new challenges, new players and a new season.
A&T was recently picked to finish second in the southern division by MEAC head coaches and sports information directors.
“We are very excited and humbled that we were picked to finish second in the southern division,” head coach Hal Clifton said. “It's nice that our players have been recognized for all of their hard work in a short period of time. However, we want to win more matches in conference next season. We want to go undefeated in our division. It’s an achievable goal but it will be difficult because the competition is good. We really want to be first or second and stay on top in the southern division.”
It is an achievable goal for the Aggies who entered the conference tournament last year as the No. 2 seed in the southern division behind Florida A&M who went an unblemished 10-0 in the MEAC. But with lofty goals comes expectations from a team that included one senior, six sophomores, and four freshmen last year to a team that has flourished into experienced upperclassmen.
“We cannot say that we are young anymore,” said Clifton. “The expectations are that they play with that experience and play with that level of camaraderie that has been established over the years.”
The Aggies return nearly all of their starters and look to be headed again by junior Aleena McDaniel who was a 2013 third-team All-MEAC selection. McDaniel, an all-around player, led the Aggies in kills (2.62/set) and was second in digs (2.39). Rejoining McDaniel at the net will be junior Brooke Stamnes who was second in kills (2.49) and averaged 2.19 digs a set. Junior middle hitter Te'Borah Hawkins-Hollingsworth returns as the Aggies’ top blocker from 2013 who finished with 58 total blocks and was third in kills (1.82).
Setting up the front row will be sophomore Liz Martino who dazzled in year one by leading A&T in assists (602). Junior libero Ashley Johnson tallied 388 digs in 2013, a year after earning All-MEAC honors as a freshman. Junior defensive specialist Jasmine Jones will join Johnson on the back row. Defensive specialist T'keyah Davis and middle hitters Jillian Nobles and Jade Boone each made considerable impacts during their freshman seasons.
“We’re expecting more out of the returners,” explained Clifton. “We worked really hard in the spring with each individual player on fixing their weaknesses. We looked at what their strengths were and tried to make those even better. We’re still expecting our players to perform at a higher level and to push themselves. We’ve got a very well-balanced team which is what I’m happy about.”
A&T has added other pieces to its puzzle for the upcoming year. Fifth-year middle hitter Jeana Daniels returns for her final season after sitting out last season. Daniels has plenty of match experience. She has played in 278 matches with 467 kills and 199 total blocks in her career.
“Jeana had a phenomenal spring and we know what she’s capable of doing,” said Clifton. “She’s in better shape and has grown mentality, so we’re going to look for her to step in and play.”
“We brought in a little size with Jasmine and Samara who both are really good at the net,” Clifton continued. "Marteen is very quick and that’s how she’s going to score. Tatyana is a defensive specialist and good player that adds more depth to our team. They’ve all had really good prep careers and played high levels of club ball. We’re expecting them to come in and fight for positions. Our goal is to bring in someone every year who can challenge our starters.”
The Aggies will get a chance to put all their pieces together beginning on Aug. 29 at the Indiana State Tournament which is one of four tournaments A&T has scheduled before conference play begins on Sept. 26.
“All of these teams are going to bring something new to us,” said Clifton about the non-conference schedule. “Some are really fast, others are really tall but we just want to up our level of play. We want to be in a competitive environment every day that makes our ladies show up and play hard. As we continue to rebuild this program we are becoming contenders in all these tournaments, which will help lead us to a successful conference season, and eventually a run in the conference tournament.”