EAST GREENSBORO – The North Carolina A&T volleyball team began fall camp with the first official practice Friday inside Moore Gymnasium. The Aggies are coming off their best season under head coach Hal Clifton who is entering his ninth season with the program.
N.C. A&T finished above .500 for the first time in 12 years with a 14-12 record. In what was their first appearance in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) championship match in 13 seasons, the Aggies fell to Howard in three sets. Now the Aggies are back inside the enclosures of Moore working to take a step beyond just reaching the championship match.
“I thought the first practice went really well,” head coach Hal Clifton said. “It was about what I expected. It was exciting to get everyone together with the new freshmen coming in and getting the team back together. It’s exciting to see the mix and the energy was good and it was exciting.”
Reaching the title match was a difficult one as N.C. A&T had to defeat Maryland Eastern Shore, who has reached the semifinals the last two seasons and Florida A&M in the semifinals to snap a 40-match losing streak to the Rattlers.
“For us, we want to continue to become a program that’s sustainable and consistent,” Clifton said. “Over the last two years, we keep building those blocks. We got to keep our focus and energy into the right places on the right things and if we do that, good things will happen.”
Over the last two seasons, the Aggies are 28-26 overall and a 13-7 MEAC.
This season, the MEAC Southern Division is up for grabs as the top three teams were separated by one point in the preseason voting. Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman are tied for first with 88 points, but the Aggies are third with 87 points.
The Aggies return 11 letterwinners from last season including junior outside hitter Courteney Pitt, a preseason first-team All-MEAC selection. Pitt led the MEAC in kills per set (3.96) last season while sophomore libero Andrea Laboy-Rivera led the team with 418 digs and with 4.49 digs per set, which ranked second in the conference. Junior setter Edie Brewer led the team with 7.51 assists per set, which ranked sixth in the conference.
N.C. A&T’s frontline is also impressive. Last season, the Aggies led the conference in opponent hitting percentage opponents to a .158 hitting percentage. Their offense was assisted by leading the conference in service aces per set (1.75). Laboy-Rivera was vital in leading charge with 0.40 services per set to rank fourth in the league.
The Aggies begin the season in Rock Hill, S.C., for the Cristi Curtis Volleyball Invitational hosted by Winthrop. N.C. A&T starts the tournament with Morehead State Friday, Aug. 30 at 4 p.m., followed matches against Winthrop and Davidson on Saturday (1 p.m., 4 p.m.). The Aggies first home match is 6 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 17 against USC Upstate at Moore.
“We always have high expectations, so we are going out and take it one step at a time,” said Brewer. “I’m excited to be back on the court. It’s fun working with my teammates and connecting with them on the court.”