GREENSBORO-The North Carolina A&T volleyball team is learning how to persevere in adversity. The Aggies' efforts have yet to produce the results they want, as they loss in five sets for the second straight match with a 17-25, 25-17, 25-19, 22-25, 15-11 defeat at the hands of Bethune-Cookman at Moore Gymnasium.
"We battled again in another five-set match and came out on the short end," said A&T head coach Hal Clifton after watching his Aggies drop to 0-2 in the MEAC a week after losing in five sets to N.C. Central. "But I'm happy with the way our girls are competing. It's good to see what we're capable of doing at times. We're just not consistent at it. Until we start attacking smarter at times and quit wasting swings and either live to fight another day or find a way to put the ball away, we're going to struggle."
Despite the team's struggles with record a .135 hitting percentage for the match and the growing pains of youth, Clifton knows daily improvement will get the Aggies where they need to be as a team. The Aggies are 0-4 in five-set matches this season. But that's more five-set matches than the team has played in total over the previous three seasons combined.
"I'm not a coach that believes in moral victories," Clifton said. "But I am a coach that believes that if you keep fighting, and if you keep doing what you're supposed to do, it's going to pay off. So many people focus on win, win, win. But last year we weren't even in a position to go five with anybody. So we're doing the right things at times, but we're still making some inexperienced decisions. Hopefully as we get mentally prepared and we learn more about the game intellectually, we'll have fewer errors and we'll be able to win those matches."
Brooke Stamnes and Aleena McDaniel led the Aggies with 12 and 11 kills, respectively. McDaniel posted her second double-double of the year as she added 15 digs to her totals. Freshman libero Ashley Johnson led the team with 18 digs. Sophomore Aprill McRae had five total blocks in the match.
"We're putting a lot of pressure on young players to perform. They're going to get better and they're going to rise to the occasion. Our kids are going to learn," Clifton said.
The Aggies (0-21, 0-2 MEAC) won the first set by posting a .379 hitting percentage and then struggled through the next two sets by producing just 14 kills on 63 swings. They had 13 errors in the process. But senior Andrea Evans and McDaniel dominated the fourth set. Both players recorded three kills without a hitting error. It resulted in the Aggies forcing a fifth and deciding set.
In the deciding set, three attack errors put A&T in an early 6-1 hole. Through resiliency, the Aggies made it competitive again as an Aleena McDaniel kill made it a 13-10 set. The Wildcats picked up a point on a kill by Aria Cormier to move into match point at 14-10. A huge kill from Evans kept the set alive. But Pierre picked up her 17th kill on the night to secure the match for the Wildcats (2-18, 2-0 MEAC).
The Aggies will take on Florida A&M at 1 p.m., at Moore Gymnasium. Two days later, they will host the Radford Highlanders at 6 p.m.
"I just want to make sure that we don't come out flat. Losing two five-setters is tough mentally," Clifton said. "When you only have a few upperclassmen who really haven't had the opportunity to experience this level of competition day in and day out in their career, through no fault of their own, it takes a long time to develop that 'we can win, we can fight, we can win those close ones mentality.'"
He added: "Five-set losses hurt. I keep telling them that we've got to believe in the process and that things are going to go our way. If we're still thinking about Friday night, we're going to be 0-3 really fast."