GREENSBORO-The North Carolina A&T volleyball team came within three points of winning their second straight match on Wednesday night at Moore Gymnasium. But the Norfolk State Spartans fought back and claimed the come-from-behind victory in five sets (25-16, 29-31, 25-15, 22-25, 15-13) to hand the Aggies a tough back-and-forth match.
The contest was tied 53 times and the lead changed hands 27 times.
"We played a pretty solid match most of the way through," said A&T head coach Hal Clifton. "We struggled in the first set. They came out on fire and we came out flat. We turned it around in the second set and got very excited and felt like we could compete, and ended up competing and going to extra points. The fourth set we played really well. The fifth set we played really well, we just got to find ways to finish matches and finish sets. We've struggled to do that at times. This is another fifth-set match we didn't close out when we had the lead at the changeover. We just didn't step up and finish."
Freshman Te'Borah Hawkins-Hollingsworth totaled a season-best 15 kills for the Aggies from the left side, while freshman Brooke Stamnes posted her fifth double-double of the season with 13 kills and 17 digs. Freshman Ashley Johnson tallied 25 digs.
"I'm very proud of Te'Borah's production. She's finally worked her way into the lineup and I really liked a lot of the things she was doing out there," Clifton said. "Picking up 17 digs is really good for Brooke. We've been really stressing her to play better defense out of the back row. She can't just be an attacker and she really stepped it up tonight and made some great defensive stabs...[Ashley's] really adjusted to the college game and is starting to take ownership of that libero position. I'm really proud of her effort. Five digs per set is a pretty nice night for any libero."
But the Aggies had trouble hanging on to their lead in the final set. Andrea Evans gave A&T a 9-6 lead as she towered over the net to slam down a Chelsea Fox set. A&T still held the lead at 12-11 moments later when Charlotte Armstead served up an attack error The Spartans gained the lead by going on a 3-0 run. Johnson stepped the pain with a service ace to move the Aggies to within one at 14-13 But Jessica Johnson ended the match as she bounced a kill between Johnson and Stamnes.
"They got into a rotation where their server just ripped off four solid jump serves and we struggled and really at that point, that was the big difference," Clifton said. "If we side out on her first serve or she has a service error, it changes the entire game. I think we got a little tight and she got a little more confident, and we weren't able to handle her."
In the first set, the Aggies were unable to protect their lead. A kill from Hawkins-Hollingsworth gave A&T the lead at 15-14, but then the Spartans went on a 6-0 run to pull ahead. The Aggies collected their last point of the set on a service error by a Ramos to make it a 20-16 game. Norfolk State then collected the next five points to win the set.
Down 2-1, the Aggies roared back in the fourth set, and looked poise to win their first home match of the year. A&T picked up a 20-17 lead on a Norfolk State attack error. Moments later, Stamnes tipped the ball over the net for a kill and to give A&T a 22-19 lead. Johnson grew the lead to 23-19 on a service ace. The Spartans didn't give up, as they won two points to make it a 24-22 set. The Aggies called a timeout and came out of the break with a Jeana Daniels kill to give A&T the set.
The Aggies will travel next week to take on The Citadel on Wednesday, Oct. 23 at 6 p.m., before going to Durham to take on the N.C. Central Eagles at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26. They will look to take the competitiveness from Wednesday's loss into their final six matches of the season.
"We've got to take away that we competed against a very good Norfolk State team and we've just got to focus on that we can do good things and keep after it," said Clifton. "We've got to take away that we can compete. We can get after it, we can play. Believing that we can play and believing that we're good enough to win is where we're at. We're just getting over the hump."