ROCK HILL, S.C.-The North Carolina A&T volleyball team snapped a losing set streak, matched the number of set wins from 2011 and recorded a school-record 106 digs on Saturday in a pair of matches to wrap up the Winthrop Classic Tournament.
"I thought we had a really good performance all day today," said A&T head coach Hal Clifton. "The girls played very well. We had some things that we worked on this week that we were able to implement, and that was a really good sign. I think we felt a little more confident today... The score may not reflect it, but I thought overall it was a really good weekend."
The Aggies (0-15) lost in four sets to North Florida and Mercer. Against the UNF Ospreys in the morning, the Aggies fell by 25-20, 25-14, 21-25, 25-10. In the afternoon against the Mercer Bears, the Aggies lost by 22-25, 25-21, 25-15, 25-22.
After being swept in the last five consecutive matches, the Aggies were able to break that streak on Saturday morning against North Florida, as they won set three to snap a 19-set losing streak.
"We played a very good first match this morning. The girls came out ready to play," Clifton said. "We won the first set of the second match, and that gave us the feeling that we could play with the teams here."
The Aggies picked up their eighth set victory on the year in their match against Mercer-which matched the number of sets A&T won in 2011. The Aggies still have more than half of the 2012 season yet to play.
The Aggie defense was also a major asset in Saturday's matches, as the Aggies totaled 20.0 team blocks on the day and posted 106 digs against Mercer. The previous single-match record for digs occurred on Sept. 6, 2002 when the Aggies recorded 104 digs against Southeastern Louisiana. The Aggies finished the tournament with 26.0 total blocks and 185 digs.
"Over the course of the preseason, we've out-blocked a number of our opponents; we just haven't been able to out-hit them. Defensively, we dug 106 balls in the second match. We just weren't able to get our offense going," Clifton said. "Defensively we're getting better. I'm pleased with our girls' effort of refusing to let the ball hit the floor."
But while their defense was strong, the A&T offense is still struggling. The Aggies totaled 73 kills and posted a .014 hitting percentage in the Winthrop Classic.
"We've done a really good job of trying to slow people down at the net, so we've just got to find a way to score points offensively," Clifton said.
Freshman Brooke Stamnes posted a team-best 18 kills in the Classic with seven aces and four blocks, while junior Chelsea Fox added 16 kills, 30 digs and six blocks playing in the outside hitter position. Fox had 21 digs in the match against Mercer, while freshman Ashley Johnson had a team-best 29 digs. Johnson averaged 4.73 digs per set in the Winthrop Classic. Senior Andrea Evans tied a career high with six blocks in the match against UNF. She had 14 kills and 13 blocks in the Classic.
"I thought AJ played phenomenal. She came up with some amazing touches and kept us involved in a lot of points that allowed us to keep momentum, and just excitement and energy with the balls that she touched," Clifton said. "Andrea again blocked 1.18 for the weekend, which is tremendous. Anytime you have a middle blocking over 1.1 is just a really great job. I thought Chelsea Fox did a nice job stepping into the outside hitter role. She let us really take a good look at what she could do out there, adjusting from the setter position to the outside."
The Aggies were able to break their losing streak in the third set, by starting out strong. The Aggies took advantage of UNF's 14 attack errors in the set. The Aggies pulled ahead 12-5 early. But the Osprey was able to tie the set at 16. The Aggies went on a 3-0 run to regain the lead. An attack error by UNF gave the Aggies a 20-17 lead. A few seconds later, a kill by Evans gave the Aggies a five-point advantage. Another block by McRae gave the Aggies a 23-19 lead. A kill by Evans brought the Aggies to set point, and a service error by Giovanazzi gave the Aggies the set victory.
Against the Bears in the evening, the Aggies started off with a win. A kill by Stamnes made it a 11-5 contest, and Evans followed that up with her own tip kill to give A&T a six-point edge at 12-6. Fox followed that with another kill to make it a 13-6 contest. A kill by Stamnes made it a 20-15 set. The Bears made an effort to come back. Stamnes made an attack error that cut A&T's lead to 23-22. But Mercer's Caroline Carlton made back-to-back attack errors to give the Aggies the set victory.
In set two, the Aggies and Bears went back and forth, tying the game eight times. A kill by Stamnes tied it again at 19-19. A kill by Daniels gave A&T the 20-19 lead. The Bears tied it back up again at 20-all on an A&T attack error. Mercer went on a 5-1 run to win the second set.
The Aggies will continue their road swing by heading to Appalachian State for a match on Tuesday at 7 p.m.